THE CALCULUS OF INVALID VOTES EXPOSES ECSL IMPERFECTIONS:

A call to NEC/ECSL to embark on massive voters’ education

BY MARCUS BANGURA

Reminiscing over two decades prior to the return of multi-party democracy in 1996 in Sierra Leone, I was a teenager, a school pupil and a First-time voter. I can  visualize some activities of the Interim National Electoral Commission (I-NEC) before the Presidential and Parliamentary elections, which among other things, was primarily massive voters education, in addition to  making rules and regulations for the election, demarcating electoral constituencies, registration of political parties,  registration of voters, providing security during elections, recruiting    electoral officers, printing of ballot papers, and above all, counting and declaration of election results on time.

Still in retrospect, I can remember taking the GCE O’ Level exams, now WASSCE at St. Andrew’s Secondary School, if you like, the United Christian Council (UCC) in Bo, a year before the 1996 general elections. I can vividly remember taking one of my most favorite subjects, Government, in the school hall. The exam was not an easy ride. It was rough and tough, but I tried my level best to sail through and stand out from the crowd by comfortably answering almost all my questions with the exception of one. I was having the challenge of choosing among the many questions within my reach and after so much thinking and rethinking and with little time left, I settled and threw my weight on the question dealing with the conduct of Free and fair elections. The question demanded that we give five factors or conditions necessary to ensure the conduct of free and fair elections in a democratic state. With my ugly handwriting, I gave four factors with one still remaining, and since I had not wanted to leave no stone unturned, whilst caught in the middle, I had to rekindle and kindle my cognitive intuition to publicity or voters’ education, which was very common with INEC at the time, because the Commission embarked on massive voters’ education, I was able to capture and flag it on the paper for a pay of an excellent grade in government.

Fast forward, the just concluded bye elections held in the country on Saturday 24th June, 2022, and the number of invalid votes that amounted to 1,259 ballot papers has exposed the imperfections of NEC/ECSL to embark on massive voters’ education. It is worrying that NEC/ECSL has done very little or nothing from that perspective.

 It is strikingly shocking that in just 6 bye-elections held for constituency 056 and five ward elections, some 1,259 invalid votes were recorded in an electoral voting system that is simple to use.  What is more worrying is the fact that the country would be holding its general elections on 24th June, 2023, and things have not been properly put in place. We are yet to see electoral education that I saw one year before the conduct of the Presidential and Parliamentary elections in 1996. In every election, be it what it may, general elections, local elections, runoff elections, bye-elections or referendum, the Electoral Commission is charged with the responsibility of educating the masses about their conducts in the country by providing the requisite information through TV, radio, print media, symposia and public lectures and any means possible to enable the masses understand how to vote. The electorates must be educated about the electoral process to ensure that the electorates understand the procedures, purposes and voting pattern. Where the electorates are not educated, there is the proclivity of invalid votes, which in turn will expose the electoral commission and staff, who are constitutionally charged with the responsibility to give political education to the masses. It is therefore glaring that electoral education is one of the pivotal roles of the Electoral Commission, which is an agency established by the government through an Act of Parliament and charged with the responsibility of conducting free and fair elections with an independent, impartial and non-partisan lens. And, it is for these reasons that the appointment of the Chief Electoral Commissioner should not be clouded with controversy, in order to avert suspicion and distrust, which is a catalyst for election dispute and unacceptance of election results. This is the rationale why an individual who is appointed Chief Electoral Commissioner by the President must satisfy the criteria for membership of Parliament, as provided in the country’s constitution. The appointment should also be done in consultation with political parties. It should be noted that in any election, a good voter turnout is considered positive political participation, and a poor voter turnout is considered negative political participation.

In respect of the just concluded bye-elections, the calculus of low voter turnout and the huge calculus of invalid votes exposes NEC/ECSL imperfection, as they flop with 1,259 invalid votes, which is not only alarming, but throw spanners into the works for turning blind eyes and deaf ears to extensive public education, which is required before the 2023 general elections.

In conclusion, let me state that in voting, an invalid vote is the failure to cast a valid vote. In view of this, a ballot is considered spoilt, spoiled, void, null, informal, invalid or astray, if a law declares or an election authority determines that it is invalid and should not be included in the valid vote counts. Invalid votes may occur deliberately where the individual does not want to support a candidate or accidentally where the voter is ready to vote, but for lack of education, he/she does not know how to vote and therefore voted badly, and once it is discovered, it is not counted.  With this, it is prudent that political parties do rallies to educate their members, but most times instead of embarking on voters’ education, they are seen embarking on confrontation and display of the gymnastics of mother invectives as casting aspersions.

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