1. WHAT IS THE STORY WITH VOTER VALIDATION?
Voter Validation is an exercise aimed at cleaning up the voter register, and is considered to be the only feasible solution at this stage, as a lesser alternative to compiling a whole new register. The Electoral Commission’s Panel of Experts, the team tasked with making recommendations to Mrs Charlotte Osei and the EC leadership on how to get a credible register for 2016, has told the EC to carry out Validation, as the most viable, credible option. The voters’ register has been the single most controversial election issue in Ghana this time. Going into the 2016 elections with a register that does not command majority public confidence can create a platform for disturbing the peace and stability of the country, post-elections. Validation is an acceptable middle way for the two extremes: those for a new register and those for a clean-up of the existing one. If done well, it is likely to help restore public confidence in the EC and give Ghana an election results all Ghanaians will easily accept.
2. WHAT IS VALIDATION?
Validation means to simply clean up the register. You, as a registered voter in Ghana, must, at a period set by the EC, go to your local registration centre to be validated in order for your name to rename on the list. Like compiling a new register, if you do not show up to be validated your name will be removed from the list, just like it happened with the 2012 biometric registration exercise.
3. IS VALIDATION DONE IN ANY OTHER COUNTRY?
Yes. Voter Validation is not a new concept. It’s done successfully in democracies around the world. The United Kingdom, for example, carries out an “annual canvass” to validate voters every year. The practice is designed to avoid duplicate entries and to ensure the accuracy of the register. The UK asserts that this annual Validation process is the most reliable way of ensuring the accuracy of the UK’s electoral register.
Also, for the last 4-5 months before Nigeria’s general elections in 2015, INEC introduced a form of Validation by simply issuing a new voter ID, called Permanent Voter’s Card (PVC). Every registered voter had to go to their respective registration centre to have their fingerprints verified, facial image matched and exchange their old card for the PVC. Those who did not bother to get the PVC could not vote. The Validation process in Nigeria, carried out against political pressure from the ruling government from whom Prof. Jega received countless attacks, led to a substantial decrease in voter fraud. And in so doing, the INEC head succeeded in delivering the most credible elections in Nigeria’s history.
4. WHAT WOULD VOTER VALIDATION ACHIEVE?
It enables all Ghanaians to validate the inclusion of their names on the voters’ register – to confirm their national identity and residency, and ensure they are eligible to vote on election day. This includes those who registered using NHIS cards being given the opportunity to regularise their inclusion after the Supreme Court ruling against the use of NHIS cards to register. A bloated register allows election results to be rigged by adding up numbers illegally, according to the EC’s own Panel Report.
If conducted effectively and professionally, Validation would rid the register of invalid names, such as:
- Deceased voters (estimated to be at least 600,000)
- The estimated millions of Ghanaian voters whose registration is in dispute since the Supreme Court ruling against the use of NHIS to establish eligibility as a citizen.
- Those who have emigrated since 2012 and are no longer residence of an electoral area in Ghana in a specific constituency as the law demands.
- Foreigners whose names are illegally on the register and may either be no longer available to be validated or may be afraid to come forward to commit the crime again because of all the public uproar against non-nationals being unlawfully registered.
5. WHAT WOULD VOTER VALIDATION ENTAIL?
- Every registered voter will go to their local registration centre to be validated, or their names will be removed from the voter register.
- If Validation is done simultaneously with Limited Registration, there will be two main designated areas at the registration centre: one for those who are there for Validation, and the other for those who are there for Limited Registration (registration for first-time voters).
- Biometric data (fingerprints) will be verified, using the Biometric Verification device (BVD), facial image will be crosschecked, so as personal details (such as home address) and updated if need be.
- In line with the Supreme Court decision outlawing the use of NHIS cards to prove eligibility, all voters to be validated must come with an acceptable ID, such as a passport, National ID card or a Driver’s Licence. Those without any of the IDs above may have two voters who have been successfully validated to vouch for their eligibility.
- Once successfully validated, the registered voter should be given a new voter’s ID card, rendering the old card defunct. This is necessary to differentiate those validated from those who are not.
- After Validation and Limited Registration are completed, the two registers will be processed and purged of multiple registrations. Then the two registers will be merged into one accurate register.
- An exhibition period will be initiated, allowing communities across Ghana to view the cleaned up, comprehensive voter register.
6. IS IT NOT TOO LATE TO DO VALIDATION?
No. A Validation process is more straightforward and will take less than 30 per cent of the time required for new registration to be processed because no forms are filled, no photos or fingerprints are taken. But, the best time to do Validation will be at the same time as the Limited Registration exercise.
7. WHY THE URGENCY FOR VALIDATION AND LIMITED REGISTRATION TO BE DONE AT THE SAME TIME?
The clock is ticking. The delays caused by the EC have now made building a brand new, clean voter register impractical, given the short amount of time before the November 2016 presidential election. The EC must conduct Validation in tandem with the Limited Registration they plan to carry out. The process for Validation must happen immediately, in order for it to be carried out in conjunction with Limited Registration. It would be neither effective nor efficient to waste the Ghanaian people's money and time by conducting these exercises separately. Thus, the EC must move forward with both exercises without delay.
- It will save cost; publicity and operations for the two exercises will be merged and done cost-effectively. It will be cheaper for the EC, and cheaper for the political parties to also mobilise their agents, and easier for civil society and the media to monitor just that one major registration exercise.
- The combined publicity for all eligible voters, both first time voters and registered voters for Validation, will ensure a greater voter participation than doing them separately.
- It saves time, because both exercises are about the voters’ register which must be done and processed before the 2012 polls.
- It will mean that one exhibition can be done to cover both exercises.
It would be a waste of resources to first conduct Limited Registration and then do the Validation. It may mean delaying the Limited Registration for 2-5 weeks. It is better to get it right than to give Ghana a wrong election.
The EC must act quickly to restore public confidence in their intent and ability to conduct an honest, credible election.
8. IS THE EC FOR OR AGAINST VALIDATION?
It is difficult to say now. The EC has avoided giving a straight answer and timelines for undertaking even stakeholder consultations towards Validation. The implication of the Supreme Court ruling is that millions of Ghanaians risk being disenfranchised for using an unconstitutional identification source (NHIS card), to register in 2012. Currently pending is a Supreme Court case to enforce just that. However, contrary to the urgings of its own Panel of Experts, the EC had said it was planning to only carry out an Exhibition period as the only window to challenge those who registered using NHIS cards.
But, the exhibition-focused solution has been blasted by both the Supreme Court and the EC’s own Panel of Experts as “not effective” toward solving the voter register problem. The Panel issued a report outlining the reasons why exhibition-only is not a viable solution:
1. The [voter register] list is not ordered in a way that would make it possible to spot invalid records (alphabetic order and not following residential address system; too many names for anyone to manage the task).
2. Not enough time given for the exercise.
3. There is the assumption that people are known in their communities.
4. The potential for several persons having the same name.
5. The setup is potentially confrontational.
9. WHAT ARE THE NEXT STEPS TO FACILITATE VOTER VALIDATION?
To make it happen, the current date for Limited Registration (28th April to 8th May) must be postponed by between 2-5 weeks, to allow the Validation and Limited Registration to be conducted in tandem. The postponement is necessary in order to allow for:
- The stakeholders to agree on the modalities
- The budget to be agreed upon and funding to be released
- A law to be drafted and enacted for Validation. This can be by an amendment to the Public Elections (Registration of Voters) regulations, 2016 (CI 91) or by passing an entirely new law, which will take 21 days to come into force.
- To allow for the Biometric Voting Device machines that are dispersed across the various districts to be brought to Accra and serviced, then re-distributed for use in Validation/Limited Registration
WHAT DO I NEED TO DO TO PREPARE FOR VOTER VALIDATION?
If the EC makes the right decision and conducts Voter Validation, every registered voter must bring an identification, other than voter, ID to Validation. In addition to the voter ID, everyone must have a secondary ID on hand (passport, driver’s license, or national ID card). If a voter does not have a second form of ID, they will require two other voters, who have already been successfully verified, to vouch for their identity.
This (as updated) was compiled by the Danquah Institute, a public policy research centre. Wednesday, March 16, 2016.