By Lawrence Williams
Complaints about disproportionate allocation of registration centers, rejection of first-time voters, and the persistent logistical and technical challenges with voter registration, especially in opposition strongholds, raise fears of gerrymandering in the voter registration exercise, thus casting doubt on the validity of the would-be outcome of the process. As the first phase of the process ends tomorrow, the Electoral Commission for Sierra Leone (ECSL) is being pressed to make a full and accurate disclosure of the number of registrants captured in their database, and to disaggregate the information to show how many voters have registered in each of the 1,815 centres across the country.
It is because of this that the Hon. Chernor Ramadan Maju Bah, opposition leader in Parliament, wrote on Sept. 10 that “the existing data lacks transparency and inclusiveness, raising questions about its comprehensiveness, accuracy, and reliability.” According to the lawmaker, denying political parties access to verify the data which will eventually constitute the voter roll could undermine the integrity of the electoral process. The notable politician Femi Claudius-Cole has also been tweeting almost daily about potential flaws in the voter registration process. In one of her numerous tweets, she asserted that the system is trying to disenfranchise people by having them walk miles to register and then turn back without registering.
On the civil society front, Legal Link in its report of Sept. 9 noted that first-time voters are having difficulties registering to vote in next year’s elections. They observed that the NCRA system keeps rejecting first-time voters because they require a change of some information in the system. The organisation said in most cases, such people were turned away or told to come back the next day or to contact the NCRA office for verification. Furthermore, Legal Link noted that ECSL’s dependence and use of the NCRA data which is characterized with errors as a primary source of voter information makes the whole process more cumbersome.
The organisation makes it abundantly and unequivocally clear that the NCRA is merely charged with the responsibility to share information in relation to births, adoptions, deaths, marriages, divorces or nullities with ECSL for the purposes of getting an updated register of voters for the conduct of public elections and referenda but there is no extant law that requires ECSL to compulsorily use the data of NCRA as a basis for the voter registration exercise.