In recent months, political parties in Ghana including the New Patriotic Party (NPP), the Convention People’s Party (CPP), the Progressive People’s Party, religious groups, the media and civil society groups such as the Let My Vote Count Alliance have made the case for urgent and honest electoral reform in the lead up to the November 2016 elections.
Pointing to evidence of widespread irregularities in the existing voter register, they have called for a new register of voters or a comprehensive cleanup of the existing register, with a view to ensuring a more transparent and accountable electoral process. This is seen as necessary to engender public confidence in this year’s crucial presidential and parliamentary elections and create a conducive landing for peace during and after the polls.
In response to these calls, in October 2015 the Chairperson of the Electoral Commission constituted a panel of five prominent Ghanaians and electoral experts to hear proposals from various stakeholders and issue a report to the Commission outlining their recommendations. The panel included:
- His Lordship Professor V.C.R.A.C. Crabbe, Co-Chair of the Coalition for Domestic Election Observers, (CODEO), former Justice of the Supreme Court of Ghana, former Professor of Law, and former Electoral Commissioner of Ghana;
- Most Reverend Professor Emmanuel Asante, former Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church of Ghana and Chairman of the National Peace Council;
- Grace Bediako, a former Government Statistician and former member of the National Development Planning Commission;
- Nii Narku Quaynor, a renowned computer scientist, Chairman of the National Information Technology Agency (NITA) Board of Directors, and President of the Internet Society of Ghana; and
- Maulvi Bin Salih, Ameer of the Ahmadiyya Mission of Ghana.
On 21 December 2015, the panel presented its report to the Electoral Commission, recommending that a ‘validation’ process be carried out to ensure that ineligible names are cleaned from the voter register before the 2016 election.
PANEL REPORT FINDINGS
Voter Register “Dangerously” Bloated
In its 77-page report, the Panel concluded that the voter register is bloated and that Ghana cannot go into the 2016 general elections without addressing the widespread irregularities in the register.
The Panel found that the number of names on the voter register is “dangerously” and unacceptably more than the total estimate of people eligible to register to vote in Ghana. Under the heading, “Results of the Analysis”, from page 9 of the Panel Report, the VCRAC Crabbe Panel says, “There is some evidence that the register of voters possibly contains a substantial number of names of people whose records are currently not valid. By all indications, the number of registered voters is not only unusually high, but it may be in excess of the potential number."
Using data from both the Electoral Commission and the Ghana Statistical Service, the Panel Report calculated that both the 2012 register and the current updated register (2014) are bloated. It makes the case that even if Ghana was able to achieve the statistical improbability of a 100 percent registration of every eligible Ghanaian, the 2012 register should not have exceeded 13,650,237 names.
Number of Potential Deceased Voters on Register “Beyond the Tolerance Limit”
The Panel Report also noted that the names of the deceased remained on the register, which appeared to be the most critical issue in terms of the magnitude of the bloating of the register and the implications for the credibility of the electoral process. The Panel estimated that as many as 584,892 voter deaths would have occurred cumulatively by the 2016 elections and may well remain in the register of voters. According to the report:
“This constitutes about 4 per cent of the eligible voters on the register... the margin is almost twice the margin by which most presidential elections were won and more than ten times the margin in the preceding elections.”
Given this, the panel concluded, “the margin is too wide beyond the tolerance limit.”
Biometric Voting Has Not Addressed Issues of Concern
The Panel Report also noted that the implementation of biometric voting has not addressed a number of concerns regarding the potential for voter fraud. It cited three particular issues of concern:
1. In 2012, the ‘No Verification No Vote’ rule was not necessarily maintained across polling stations.
2. Moreover, for the next elections it is not clear what will result from this condition being eliminated from the guidelines.
3. Voting in different polling stations could well be possible, since the results from verification machines are not integrated and analysed in this light, in post-elections quality assessment.
Further, the Panel noted that the consequences of a “bloated” register “are not ignorable.” It argued that maintaining the existing register risked “potentially rewarding corrupt practices” and “perpetuat[ing] violence in communities.”
Electoral Commission’s proposed Solution “Not a Viable Approach”
The Panel Report also makes it categorically clear that the register exhibition exercise – an approach advocated by the Electoral Commission – is not a sufficient solution, noting:
“Judging by the sheer numbers, the Electoral Commission’s proposition to display the register, with political party representatives, the Electoral Commission and citizenry to identify and point out invalid names, is not a viable approach.”
Panel Urges Validation of All Registered Voters
Noting that “you cannot do the same thing and expect different results,” the Panel urged the Electoral Commission to consider validation of all registered voters. It proposes that all eligible citizens who wish to remain registered voters must be made to report to their polling stations to be validated by way of biometric verification of their fingerprints and facial image recognition. Those who do not have their voter status validated, the report proposes, should not be maintained on the register.
The validation exercise, it argues, would be a “middle ground” between the insufficient register exhibition exercise and the creation of an entirely new register.
According to the Panel Report, the benefits of such an approach would include “signaling that the Electoral Commission is doing something about the known flaws in the register.” It further notes that the validation exercise would be a more cost-effective and time-saving approach than the creation of a new register: “In the same way that a new registration would have required citizens to physically appear for registration, the cleaning would require that they appear to confirm. The major difference is they spend less time because no forms are filled.”
VALIDATION PROCESS “SECOND BEST APPROACH”
In its response to the Panel Report, the New Patriotic Party (NPP) has maintained their view that the best and most viable option for dealing with the incurably flawed voter register is the creation of a new register. Noting that the Panel, the Electoral Commission, and even the NDC have now recognized that the current voter register is bloated, the NPP argue that the creation of a new register is the best and most credible option.
The creation of a new register would give all those who registered using NHIS cards (which has since been declared unconstitutional) an opportunity to register again, without the EC undertaking the arduous process of identifying and isolating them and informing them to come forward to regularize their voter status in a complex manner. It would help remove all the ghost names and deceased voters. Finally, it would help in the critical area of bringing back public confidence in the base document that will be used for this year’s general election.
While maintaining that the creation of a new register is the best option, the NPP agree that the validation exercise proposed in the Panel Report would be an acceptable and second best approach to resolving the problem of ineligible voters on Ghana’s voter register.
Pending at the Ghana Supreme Court now are two cases both demanding for a credible register, urging the Supreme Court to effectively order the EC to heed to the recommendations of its own panel of experts and undertake validation as the most practical way of going into the 2016 general elections with a credible register.
Whiles the substantive case is yet to be heard, the Supreme Court on Thursday, March 3, 2016, advised the EC to sit down with the plaintiffs and other stakeholders to see how best, considering the limited time involved, the validation question can be addressed.
ACTION NEEDED TO ENSURE REFORM
Despite the findings of its own panel and widespread calls for action by opposition political parties and civil society, the Electoral Commission has resisted any meaningful reform on the register. With the limited registration scheduled to commence in April, urgent attention is needed to encourage the Commission to act. Already, civil society is raising questions over the rationale in going ahead with the limited registration exercise from April 28 to May 8, when the EC has not been heard on what it intends to do to ensure that the existing register is credible. It has so far ignored to comment on whether or not it will adopt the Panel’s proposal for validation as the most viable approach to cleaning up the register.
The Danquah Institute will repeat its call made over a month ago that the best approach is for the EC to make arrangements for the limited registration and validation exercise to be done at the same time. See http://www.danquahinstitute.org/index.php/1101-why-is-ec-silent-on-panel-s-report-on-validation-of-voters-register.
Validation calls for a Constitutional Instrument, a process that will take at least 21 days to come into effect. Validation, per the Panel’s recommendations, should involve biometric verification of the registered voter, facial image recognition, and by implication of the 2014 Supreme Court ruling, which has ruled the use of NHIS card for voter registration as unconstitutional, every voter must be required to bring an acceptable secondary ID to show that they pass the eligibility test. Lastly, issuing a new voter ID card for not only every newly registered voter, but for those validated, as well, will be necessary to invalidate the contaminated existing voter ID. In order to get these necessary and desirable reforms done, the EC will have to look at postponing the April 28 date for the limited registration for probably another two weeks.
Going into the November 2016 general elections with a thick cloud of discredit hanging on the stratosphere of the base document for the polls is extremely worrying. Ghana’s democracy hangs in the balance.
Nana Attobrah Quaicoe