What really happened to the National Elections Commission’s recent voter registration exercise?
Is it true that they had mobile registration stations? Is it true that they spent US$9 million on vehicle rental to take the registrars from place to place registering people?
Is it true that they did not advertise in any newspaper the various registration sites around the country?
To what extent did they engage in voter registration education? If NEC is unable to give cogent answers to these questions, then no wonder NEC achieved little over 26 percent or 104,710 of their projected goal of 400,000 registrants.
But let us examine each of the questions separately–the first, mobile registration stations. We recall that in 2005 and 2011 NEC had fixed voter registration stations throughout the country. This was as it should have been given the transportation difficulties people encounter traveling from one place to another all over Liberia, the greater Monrovia area included. How much more the interior parts of the country? All voter registration stations should have been STATIONARY, so that people knew exactly where they were expected to be registered.
On what basis did they make this decision? That seemed to have been the most fatal mistake of all. And it was a very costly one, causing NEC to spend US$9 million on RENTED vehicles. Who ever heard of such a thing? So in the end they spent money driving the registration teams from the people; so by the time would-be registrants arrived, the teams had gotten into their rented vehicles and gone!
How much advertising did NEC do to let people know where they were to report to register? We remember distinctly that in 2005 NEC under Frances Johnson Morris advertised in a few newspapers the long lists of voter registration stations around the country. So people knew long in advance where they were expected to go to be registered.
NEC may contend they did not have the money to advertise. But they could have approached the newspapers and appealed for concessions, to make sure that people knew where to go to register. Some of the money use on rented vehicles could have gone into newspaper and radio advertising.
How much voter registration education did NEC do? We understand that there were posters pasted on light poles and walls. But clearly they were not enough. How effectively did NEC use the community radio stations scattered throughout the country? It is a known fact that most of these stations are financially strapped. Here was an opportunity for NEC to empower them to render a vital, patriotic service by helping them with a little fuel and something to subsist on, in return for mobilizing the people to go out and register to vote.
NEC attempted a valid excuse when it blamed the poor turn out on voter apathy. It is a fact that many people, especially the young, including first time registrants, have become apathetic given the dismal performance of our legislators–people have failed to do the people’s business but spent most of the time attending to their own affairs, and where they perform the work they are paid to do, they often demand special favors–mainly financial.
That is why NEC should have risen to the challenge of voter education by launching a massive publicity campaign explaining to 18 year-olds the critical importance of participating in the electoral process. By registering to vote, they would prepare themselves, as they say in America, to “THROW OUT THE RASCALS!” and elect new leaders to do the people’s business.
Alas! NEC missed that opportunity. We did not expect them to be as blunt as that and thereby incur the wrath of the legislators. But NEC could have engaged some of the young leaders, from the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), the Liberia National Student Union (LINSU) and other youth organizations, as well as some of the country’s vocal young people, to crisscross the country encouraging their kind to go register to vote.
We hope and pray that NEC will have another opportunity to repeat the voter registration for the forthcoming elections. But from where will they get the money for a repeat exercise, with the government in such serious financial straits?
The NEC Commissioners are challenged to be creative in determining their next move to correct their fatal registration fiasco.