For me it was a real pleasure observing the elections in Ghana this 7th day of December 2012. In general, the elections were free, fair, and credible and above all – violence free. Clearly, the numerous pleas to maintain the peace have been listened to in spite of the great passion with which the election battle was fought. The voter turnout was very high and in many places, people were already in queues by 3 a.m. and waited patiently for the opening at 7 a.m. Voters were orderly, polling staff were well trained on the whole and scrupulously following laid out procedure. The voters played their part and were very disciplined. It might well have been the perfect elections but maybe too many precautions were taken. One area of excess in my view was the verification of voters.
The accreditation of voters through the use of voter verification machines was supposed to be the technological high point of the election. It turned out to the Achilles heel. The Electoral Commission had lined up a triple verification process to ensure voters were truly eligible. Voters present their voters card for verification and after the card is checked, their names and photographs are checked on the voters list. Thirdly, voters are checked with an electronic verification machine that certifies that the name, card and fingerprint correspond with the human being presenting himself or herself at the polling booth. In a few places, the technology failed and since the rules says the third verification through the made in China machine is the final qualifier to vote, many people could not vote. Indeed, in some polling booths, voting will have to continue on Saturday after arrangements to provide new machines are concluded announced an embarrassed Commission Friday evening.
And yet, electronic voter verification has been the high point of the Electoral Commission’s statements on its preparedness. In 2008, 30% of voters turned up for voter verification when the list was released. This year, 68% of voters participated in the verification process, the Electoral Commission made it easy by allowing verification to be done by telephone SMS. On voting day, the verification machines, plus spare copies were to be made available in polling stations. It did not happen in some places thus setting the tone to the present embarrassment of continuing voting into a second day. The situation this Friday night is confusing as nobody had planned for it. What is to be done with the ballot boxes – count existing votes or keep till the next day? What is the guarantee that they will not be tampered with? Did Ghana need to go through three verifications phases after five consecutive elections each of which was an improvement of the preceding one? As we move on to collation centres this Friday night, these are issues worth reflecting upon.
Jibrin Ibrahim who works for the Centre for Democracy and Development in Nigeria is reporting from the IDEG/CFI Situation Room in Accra