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Sierra Leone 2023 Election: First-time voters complain of rejection

By Lawrence Williams

There have been several appeals by election management bodies (EMBs) and other key stakeholders for eligible citizens to register since the Voter Registration exercise began on 3rd September. 

These calls resonate well with first-time voters who by observation have shown a high level of determination and enthusiasm to vote. According to a report from Makeni, Sierra Leone’s northern city, some first-time voters were denied registration by Electoral Commission officials because they appeared to be younger than their age, despite presenting documentary evidence of their eligibility.

Pundits claim that rejecting first-time voters is not only a violation of their fundamental rights to vote, but also a state-sanctioned denial of their constitutional right to participate in the democratic decision-making process that will result in the election of a new government or cause the renewal of the mandate of the current regime. Numerous reports of such claims by first-time voters have spread viral on social media, and some have even made it onto national television, specifically the Africa Young Voices TV Prime Time News broadcast of Wednesday, 7th September 2022.

The National Grand Coalition said in its statement of Sept. 8 that rejection of first-time voters at registration centers has become a very serious concern to the party. According to them, this is “unfortunately turning out to be a nightmare” for those who were rejected, and it may force them to leave the democratic process altogether.

The party stated thus: “Special mention must be made of young voters who will be voting for the first time. This first experience of participation in the democratic process for many of them unfortunately is turning out to be a nightmare: in some cases, their documentation including school examination results and birth certificates have been rejected, stakeholders such as pastors, imams were given a limit to the number of registrants that they could identify, councilors were debarred from identifying community dwellers, and there were not enough entry registers for potential first-time voters. These issues certainly have extremely negative mental and psychological effects on first time voters and can permanently and completely shut down their interest and participation in the democratic process.”

The Electoral Commission in its statement of 7th Sept. acknowledged that there were challenges faced in registering first-time voters at the outset of the exercise but blamed it on technical issues with the Voter Registration software. The NGC retorted that they have a hard time comprehending why “government can spend so much money on pointless travels and other frivolities” and yet continue to be very sparing with the money needed to provide machines that function properly to the Electoral Commission to conduct a seamless registration exercise.

While the Commission stated that the issue has been resolved, no confirmation has yet been made as to whether the rejected candidates have been registered. Furthermore, the Commission notes that some have attempted to register or facilitate the registration of ineligible citizens, most of whom are underage. A stern warning from the Commission has been issued against such unpatriotic behavior, citing the legal ramifications involved.

According to the Commission, 415,465 voters were registered in the first five days of the registration process. This figure represents 65 percent of the 1,815 centers nationwide, which means that more people could have been captured in the registration software than the figure already stated.    

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