By Dr. Zobong Boima Norman
Once a non-existent phenomenon in Liberian politics, the practice of trucking voters has become a serious threat to our nascent democracy. Voter trucking is a scheme designed by electoral candidates to buy the votes of usually poor electorates and truck them to register and vote in electoral districts where they have no right to do so.
Voter trucking often involves candidates using large sums of usually ill-gotten money to exploit the poor, who are usually terribly burdened by harsh socioeconomic conditions. Voter trucking must stop, if Liberia is to truly have fair elections and effective democratic growth.
Practice of Voter Trucking
It is common knowledge that candidates can pay each “bought” voter a sum between US$20 to US$30. Using the US$20 pay rate as an example, a politician, thus, will pay a whopping US$20,000 to buy the votes of 1,000 poor electorates. Transportation and feeding costs may not be included in this pay, depending on the arrangement.
Because voter trucking is illegal under the National Elections Commission (NEC) law, candidates tend to cunningly violate the law without the commission’s notice. Perpetrators tend to use smaller vehicles to transport “bought” voters from other counties, districts or even Sierra Leone, Cote d’ Ivoire or Guinea during the duration of voter registration. But on Election Day, which is a one-day exercise, big buses and trucks are used.
Voter trucking happened in the elections of 2011, 2014 and 2017. Sadly, this problem seems to get bigger in each subsequent election. No wonder some legislative winners of past elections had reportedly boasted of buying their jobs. As the 2020 senatorial midterm approaches, aspirants and their strategists are factoring voter trucking into their campaign plans.
Danger of Voter Trucking
Voter trucking undermines the fundamental purpose of elections, frustrates democratic accountability and growth, and poses significant risks to peace, security, and stability. In terms of socioeconomic development, Liberia will “stay long inside”—a Liberian expression for being enmeshed in a long struggle – if we allowed this growing and dangerous threat to continue.
Voter trucking robs the electorate of their constitutional right to choose their leaders. Even worse, it makes election results highly susceptible to the influence of the highest bidder. Voter trucking undermines Abraham Lincoln’s symbolic definition of democracy being a “government of the people, by the people and for the people.”
When a candidate pays, trucks, or buses citizens from different constituencies to vote in other electoral districts in order to influence the outcome of elections, this is an affront to a “government of the people” and “by the people.” And usually, it ends up not being a government “for” the people as well. A University of Michigan study found that vote-buying “has been associated with reduced accountability and trust, increased corruption, and inefficient public administration.”
Elections allow people to express their faith in candidates to effectively represent them, as well as to change their leaders when they desire. Article 1 of the Liberian Constitution says, “…the people shall have the right…to cause their public servants to leave office and to fill vacancies by regular election[s]…” Voter trucking undercuts this constitutional right.
Both Senator Sando Johnson and Representative Edwin Snowe of Bomi County have expressed concerns about plans by some aspirants to massively truck voters into the county during the two-week voter registration update that starts September 1st. These legislators themselves are among the “deep-pocket” senatorial aspirants in Bomi who may have their own plans to massively truck voters as well.
Voter trucking deprives constituencies of the ability to decide who represents them. It also destroys the very purpose for which elections are held. What’s the point of spending so much money to hold elections if the people’s votes cannot determine the winner? How does voter trucking encourage good governance and effective democratic growth? Is this not a recipe for frustrations and social turmoil?
NEC, donors, Naymote, NACCSOL and other local and international organizations concerned with free and fair elections should pay keen attention to the growing threat of voter trucking in Liberia, beginning this midterm senatorial election. Let’s stop ignoring this menace and hoping that it will eventually go away. It won’t! Politicians with deep pockets find voter trucking attractive because it gives them an unfair competitive advantage.
About the Author
Zobong, who is an aspirant in the Bomi County senatorial race, holds a Doctorate of Education in Educational Leadership from Northeastern University in Boston, United States. He’s the immediate past president of the Bomi County Community College and former faculty member in the Graduate Program in Education at the University of Liberia.