Voinjama, Lofa County – The Chairperson of the National Civil Society Council based in Lofa, Northwestern Liberia, said that there was no surprise when she learned of the high number of invalidated ballots cats in the national referendum on December 8, 2020.
Report By: Arthur Kowah, LMD Election Reporting Fellow
Deddeh Kollie Kanmoh said that the lack of adequate civic and voter education ahead of the Special Senatorial Election (SSE) and national referendum, coupled with the high illiteracy rate, account for the high number of invalid ballots reported by the National Elections Commission (NEC).
On December 8, Liberia’s NEC organized elections for 15 senatorial seats and a national referendum with eight proposed amendments to the Constitution. But voters now say that due to poor awareness and education they did not understand the propositions and instead folded the ballots unmarked and placed them into the ballot boxes. An unmarked ballot is an invalid ballot.
“Not just [for] the referendum, but in this whole election there was very low awareness. Many people we talked to, said that they didn’t have much idea about the referendum. […] So, we expect these results, it’s not surprising to us,” said Kanmoh.
According to the NEC official data, more than half of the ballots cast in the referendum were invalidated.
Kanmoh emphasized that civic education needs to be an ongoing process, not just before an election, and that the government should engage local organizations to carry out voter education.
Overwhelming number of invalid votes
According to NEC official data, the referendum was characterized by an unusually high number of invalid votes. In Lofa, for example, there were 67,693 registered voters who could have marked a ballot eight times, once for each proposition. Of the total of 541,541 votes cast for all propositions combined, 304,228 votes representing 56.18%, are invalid.
In Bong County, the NEC invalidated 403,275 cumulative referendum votes compared to just 194,369 validated votes. And in Grand Cape Mount County, the total valid votes (yes and no votes) is 60,764 while the total number of invalid votes for all propositions is more than double, with 147,256.
In Grand Bassa, the total number of valid votes for all propositions is 50,943 while total number of invalid votes is 76,390. In the Southeastern county of River Gee, the total number of valid votes for all propositions is 26,957, while total number of invalid votes amounts to 85,552.
Attempts to incite tribalism
Kanmoh also condemned supporters of politicians promoting tribal rhetoric following the issuance of the SSE results but was proud that locals did not let themselves influences by inciteful messages.
Collaborating Political Parties coalition (CPP) candidate, Jeffrey Brownie Samukai, defeated Independent candidate, Joseph Kpator Jallah and ruling party Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) candidate, George Tamba Tengbeh.
Supporters of some of the defeated candidates have taken to local radios and social media, insulting and accusing certain tribes of being responsible for the defeat of their candidates, and threatened revenge.
“You don’t have to accuse a particular tribe by using demeaning terms on them. Even if your tribe is smart, you have to understand that it takes more than one district, or tribe to make a senator. So, I am calling on everyone who is going on radios and social media and making that rhetoric to immediately stop. Lofa is one of the hardly hit counties during the war because of this tribalism,” she reminded.
County Army Commander lauded voters for peaceful elections
Commander of the Armed Forces of Liberia, 2nd Lt. Momo Gray lauded the voters of the Lofa county for peaceful elections. He said that despite the impressive diversity, with 6 out of Liberia’s 16 tribes calling Lofa ‘home,’ he observed peaceful elections with everyone getting along.
“Let me say a big thank you to the people of Lofa. With all the political tension, not a single case of electoral violence was reported. Even in my own county, Grand Cape Mount, there was electoral violence, and cars were even burned. But the people of Lofa were so peaceful,” Commander Gray said.