By Josiah Flomo Joekai, Jr. BA, MA
Liberia is at the cross-roads and it is not a choice but an imperative for some of us who are conscientious to ensure that the right thing is done to consolidate the hard-earned peace that we currently enjoy. I am fully committed to this well-intentioned course and that is exactly why I am not only discussing this critical national issue regarding the reported problems that have inundated the current voters roll on radio but equally making sure that my thoughts or opinions are meticulously written for easy access and reference in seeking genuine solutions.
The fact is that the voters roll has multiple problems beyond the total number of 13,000 omissions reported by the Chairman of the National Elections Commission, Cllr. Jerome G. Korkoya when he appeared before the Liberian Senate. The NEC boss averred that his reported 13,000 omissions on the Provisional Registration Roll are not alarming as being claimed by some well-meaning Liberians including me. Thus, there is no need for Liberians to panic.
Conversely, the unadulterated fact is that the 13,000 omissions reported by the Chairman are not just untrue but constitute a fragment of the different issues that have beset the credibility of the roll. Certainly, I am already panicking and I have no doubt that many of my fellow compatriots are also deeply concerned, thus becoming frightened. Unfortunately, the vast majority of our citizens do not comprehend the extent of these problems and their implications for the conduct of the October, 2017 polls. The imbalance in the public understanding of the extent of this issue further strengthened my resolve to enlighten the public by raising the much needed awareness on the voters roll controversy.
Omissions on the Provisional Registration Roll: The Commission through its Chairman, Cllr. Korkoya has denied that the omissions on the provisional roll are alarming declaring that they only amount to 13,000. The Chairman’s report on this matter which is causing so much apprehension amongst the citizenry has to be published in keeping with the practice of the Commission to allay fears and instill trust and confidence in the electoral process. It would be in the best interest of the Commission and nation were the Chairman to present to the Senate and publish in local dailies a breakdown of omissions per county using a spreadsheet that further provides details per registration center. However, I have no doubt that this is not easily going to happen simply because it will invalidate the 13,000 omissions reported by the Chairman. The truth of the matter is that this does not represent the total number of omissions reported from magisterial offices across the country following the close of the exhibition exercise.
For the sake of the records, let’s take a look at a tip of the iceberg. Gbarpolu County for example with just three electoral districts, there is a little over 4,000 omissions reported. This by all accounts, constitutes alarming omissions in a county with a little over 45,000 registered voters (2017 Provisional Registration Roll). It is absolutely unprecedented in our electoral history and must not be sugar-coated. No one needs to be a Rocket Scientist to understand that this situation is a recipe for chaos if it remains unattended. By this figure, one can infer that taking into account the large numbers of registered voters in bigger counties like Nimba, Bong, Lofa, Margibi, Montserrado and Grand Bassa, 13,000 is grossly understated. The Chairman cannot be economical with the truth knowing very well that it has far-reaching consequences.
Existence of Additional Names on the Provisional Registration Roll: As I mentioned earlier, the roll does not only reflect omitted names or particulars but the names of individuals who were not originally registered during the Voters Registration exercise from February 1-March 14, 2017. Take for instance GBAHN Registration Center with Code 33180 in Nimba County originally registered 1519 persons but the Provisional Roll showed 1650 registered voters with an increase of 131 registered voters. This is a situation that cuts across the entire roll. Interestingly, these names are within the system and will be difficult to identify since they are recorded under the same center code with those who were originally registered. Like the omissions, this is a recipe for manipulating the roll and setting the stage for illegal voting in October which will eventually culminate into electoral fraud. The million dollar question is how did the names appear on the roll, particularly in a disaggregated manner at various centers where the individuals concerned were not originally registered in the first place? Whether or not this unacceptable act was done knowingly or unknowingly, the Commission is yet to inform the public about this dimension of the voters roll emergency.
The NEC Chairman’s Statement and its Implications for the October Polls: Chairman Korkoya’s June 14, 2017 statement that citizens with valid voter cards will vote on Election Day whether or not their names are on the roll is consistent with the current voters roll controversy. The Chairman’s statement undermines the integrity of the voters roll. It is inconsistent with the standard of maintaining a credible roll. Thus, it is counterproductive to credible elections in October, 2017 thereby creating the need for urgent intervention. In the first place, how does one obtain a valid card when his or her information is not captured on the roll? The profile of the voter established by a credible voters roll confirms the validity of the voter card. In so doing, one can safely say that the Chairman’s statement is a paradox because maintaining a credible roll is one of the basic standards in electioneering that any staff or technician must fundamentally understand. In fact, to simply put it, without credible voters roll there will be no free and fair election.
Besides, this principle of maintaining a credible voters roll is also guaranteed by Article 77(b) of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia mandating the Commission to ensure that voters are eligible by being registered. It goes without saying that it was not necessary for the government to spend resources on the just ended exhibition exercise if one will vote using his or her cards without being captured by the roll. Hence, making such policy statement that is consistent with the problems associated with the voters roll only point to the dangers that loom over October, 2017 polls. Now the picture is even clearer thus corroborating the Chairman’s statement and the credibility questions that have plagued the voters roll.
The Jonathan K. Weedor (Commissioner) Factor: In his 15 June 2017 position statement disassociating himself from Chairman Korkoya’s statement, Commissioner Jonathan K. Weedor unambiguously underlined that “there are several problems associated with the current Provisional Registration Roll ranging from the omission of hundreds, if not thousands of names to missing photos and profiles of registrants.” Commissioner Weedor furthered that the Chairman’s statement is alarming, disturbing and troubling because according to him, a reliable and credible Final Registration Roll is a cardinal requirement for every free, fair and transparent election. He even affirmed that he was not part of the decision to hold the press conference and was shocked when the Chairman made the pronouncement. It is no doubt that the move by Commissioner Weedor and his assertions do not only invalidates Chairman Korkoya’s claims of 13,000 omissions but are strong indications of lack of unity and coherence amongst Commissioners. This misunderstanding at the level of Commissioners speaks to serious leadership crisis at the Commission and I find it incomprehensible to believe that such thing is occurring at a time when a crucial national decision-making process is at hand. The Commissioner’s position is not just an ordinary insider statement but one that comes from a policy decision-maker which makes it grave thus necessitating urgent attention.
Undeniably, Commissioner Weedor is by far the most hands-on, knowledgeable and experienced Commissioner of the seven Commissioners including the current Chairman himself. Commissioner Weedor has been at the NEC since 2005 and has played a pivotal role in the management of elections to present. The wealth of experience he possesses is an asset that the Commission should adequately tap into especially at this critical juncture of our political transition. To hear from him in this manner raises a number of credibility questions.
It beats my imagination that key stakeholders including political parties and civil society organizations are very silent on this crucial national issue. Consistent advocacy and engagement with the Commission to ascertain the facts with the aim of addressing this problem must be an immediate priority. In particular, with the irregularities that attended the entire voter registration exercise such as illegal registration activities, use of non-serialized Optical Mark Recognition (OMR) forms, limited professional capacity and the disorderly arrangement of the forms, stakeholders are to painstakingly follow up on every step of the finalization of the voters roll. Unfortunately, that is not happening This is paramount because the Impartiality and transparency of the Commission can only be guaranteed if these institutions follow up with the Commission on every step of the way.
Indisputably, this is a critical national issue which has attracted tremendous attention. That is exactly why in no uncertain terms any Liberian should be allowed to vote without being accounted for by the voters roll. The reported omissions are not just in the fives, tens but hundreds and thousands. If this is anything to go by, it cannot in anyway be taken lightly since many Liberians stand to be disenfranchised as a result of these reports. What is even worrying is the number of reported cases of illegal voter registration activities that took place using NEC registration materials in some instances during the exercise. Even though some of the culprits were apprehended, the public is yet to know the outcome of those illegal activities in terms of the number of cards recovered, in whose custody they (Voter Registration Cards) are, and what has happened to those involved. Besides, forgery is one thing that remains prevalent in our society today. Thus, no one doubts the possibility of the use of hundreds or thousands of forged Voter Registration Cards in October given the capacity issue that remains a challenge for the Commission.
In my sincere opinion, the voters roll dilemma constitutes a national emergency requiring the timely and prompt intervention of the government through relevant functionaries, political parties, civil society organizations, religious institutions and diplomatic missions accredited near Monrovia, particularly those with the history of supporting the strengthening and sustenance of our embryonic democracy.
About the Author: The Author is a Representative Aspirant of District #3, Montserrado County and former Director of Civic and Voter Education of the National Elections Commission with more than 13 years of professional service in the areas of education management, democracy and governance. He has authored several published articles and books on contemporary issues.