MONROVIA, Montserrado – Amid reports of illegal issuance of voter cards ahead of the Montserrado’s senatorial and representative by-elections, the National Elections Commission has denied the allegations.
FrontPage Africa reported on July 9 that “impeccable sources” within the National Elections Commission had noted that the agency was secretly registering voters past the deadline.
NEC Chairman Jerome Korkoya dismissed the claim to a press briefing on Friday: “The NEC, in no uncertain terms, categorically denies these allegations. This story has no basis in fact; it is false and a dangerous attempt to undermine the electoral process and expose the commission to disrepute.”
Korkoya clarified that the commission does not operate in secrecy; rather, all of its operations are open and observed by independent observers. According to him, political actors also have the right under the law to observe various aspects of the electoral process.
“The commission would like to clarify that the replacement of lost or damaged voter’s cards is different from voter registration,” he also noted.
“Under voter registration, the commission registers eligible Liberians at a particular point in time and issues them cards to vote in subsequent elections. For the replacement exercise, the commission replaces voter’s cards for voters who have lost or damaged their cards. No new voter is added on the voter roll during a replacement exercise.”
He said while cards are issued during both exercises, the cards issued during replacement are marked and the cards they replace are unusable.
Korkoya also noted that the US$5 that was initially being charged by NEC for lost or damaged cards was a legal requirement under the elections law. He said NEC, however, later offered to provide the cards at no cost in order to increase participation.
“It may interest you to know that the actual cost of each voter’s card, considering all the operational and administrative factors, is around US$20,” he noted.
“For these by-elections, the commission initially decided to go in strict adherence to the provision of the law on replacement and opened two replacement centers at the magisterial offices in Brewerville and Bensonville, beginning Friday, June 21 through Tuesday, June 25, 2019.”
In response to a huge public outcry over the US$5 fee, Korkoya disclosed that the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning accepted its request to provide funds to cover the cost of replacing the cards. This led to the extension of the replacement period by additional two-days and creation of another replacement center at the commission’s headquarters.
“There was an unexpected and overwhelming influx of citizens to the headquarters demanding replacement of their cards and many even expected to register as new voters. Those requesting to register as new voters were denied in keeping with [the] law,” Korkoya said.
He noted that 1,649 replacement voter cards were issued at the close of the exercise. He said citizens continued to visit the NEC headquarters to ask for replacement of their cards even up to the time of the press conference on Friday, but were turned away due to the expiration of the deadline and the fact that the commission has to print the voter roll in time for the by-elections. Korkoya clarified that only those who could prove they were on the original final voter roll of 2017 could retrieve lost cards or get damaged cards replaced, in adherence to the law and practice.
The 2017 final voter roll showed that there were 778,291 registered voters in Montserrado and 39,005 registered voters in Montserrado’s 15th district, where the representative election will be held.
The voter roll for each of the 488 precincts in Montserrado will be posted at the precincts prior to the by-elections and Korkoya encouraged political parties and candidates to scrutinize the roll when posted.
Meanwhile, despite meeting with candidates and political party officials on Friday, NEC has not yet announced a new date for the by-elections, which it postponed for the second time.
The by-elections, previously rescheduled for July 8, are meant to fill the vacancies created in the legislature by the deaths of Sen. Geraldine Doe-Sheriff and Montserrado’s fifteenth district representative, Adolph Lawrence. NEC confirmed its decision to postpone the elections for the second time on Thursday, July 4, stating delays in the arrival of pre-packed kits as a justification.
Darius Dillon, Liberty Party’s vice chair for political affairs and senatorial candidate in the pending by-elections, disclosed minutes to the meeting that his anticipation was to get information from the elections body on reasons for the postponement and the new date for the elections to be held.
“I called the chairman, Korkoya, two days ago. I wanted to know definitively whether we will hold these elections – what is holding the NEC from conducting the elections in keeping with [the] schedules and our conversation resulted to this meeting,” Dillon said.
On Thursday, the four opposition collaborating political parties (Unity Party, Liberty Party, the Alternative National Congress, and the All Liberian Party) issued a statement threatening to reject the result of the elections if they are not free, fair, transparent, and credible.
The parties noted that the tenure of the NEC chairman is close to expiration and suggested the possibility that he could be trying to negotiate to extend or renew his mandate. However, the parties threatened that any attempt to rig the election would provoke a call for mass protest.
“We will do all we can to protect the votes of the people of Montserrado County,” the statement read.
Featured photo by Lloyd Massah