When voting ended on Wednesday, the Electoral Commission of Ghana and its chairperson, Charlotte Osei, were receiving tons of commendation from Ghanaians. The 2016 elections turned out to be the smoothest and, perhaps, one of the most incident-free elections in the history of Ghana. Apart from a few minor hitches, which are usual with every human activity, we voted peacefully and the media had practically no bad news to tell. Even the EC’s fiercest critics commended the commission.
The goodwill which the EC enjoyed was, however, short-lived. On Thursday, the commission released a press statement at a time when EC should have been giving us certified results from the constituencies. The commission said:
“It has come to the attention of the Commission that several possible instances of over voting have occurred at a number of polling stations. As a result of this the Electoral Commission has decided to review all results from the collation centers and verify them against the physical pink sheets from the polling stations.
“The verification process is now in several stages before results will be certified:
“1. Receipt of manual faxes from the collation centers.
2. Comparison of faxed summary results with the Electronic Results Transfer data
3. Comparison of the constituency collation sheets
4. Final comparison with the polling station pink sheets.
“On verification of, and in line with, established administrative procedures the EC is able to determine if any over voting occurred in any polling station. Should any discrepancy occur the commission will meet to determine the appropriate actions.”
Under normal circumstances, a statement like this from the Electoral Commission should not raise doubts, questions and suspicions. But the EC’s intervention at this process raises a lot of concerns.
The first concern here is the ambiguity in the EC’s claim. The EC did not tell us the number of polling stations where these possible instances of over-voting occurred. The word “several” means “more than two but not many,” but 29,000 polling stations took part in the election. So “several” instances become insignificant.
Besides, the Electoral Commission has not been able to tell us how it noticed the possible instances of over voting. Who reported that to the EC? And at what point was the over voting noticed?
If there is an issue of over voting, the first place to notice it is at the polling station. It occurs when the number of votes in the ballot box is more than the number of persons electronically and/or physically verified. If, at the end of voting, the number of ballots counted is more than the number of persons who registered at the polling station, it will be a clear case of over-voting. The election officers and party agents, should be able to detect this. The party agents often raise the alarm and it is resolved at the polling station level or the constituency collation centre.
At the constituency collation centre, over voting can be detected because the returning officer deals with raw data from the various polling stations. At the National level, however, the Electoral Commission takes a summation of the polling station results from the constituencies so it is practically impossible for the EC to determine over-voting at the polling stations without looking at the pink sheets from the polling stations. The EC at the national level can only determine this when the number of votes from a constituency is more than the number of registered voters in that constituency.
After this announcement, the EC told the media that some party agents at the national collation centre would not sign for results the certification. The EC said it had called for pink sheets from the polling stations. This means that the EC did not detect this over voting by itself. So who informed the EC about the over-voting? And how many constituencies are involved? How many polling stations in those constituencies were involved? And are the numbers in those polling stations significant enough to affect the outcome of the results in the constituencies?
If the EC is auditing the results of the Presidential election at the national level because they don’t want to declare the wrong winner, why have they neglected the parliamentary results? Is the commission saying that people can do over voting with the presidential election and not the parliamentary one? And how does the EC do successful auditing without the input of the officials at the polling station level who supervised the voting there?
The EC has failed to tell us how they detected the over-voting and how many polling stations and constituencies are involved. This raises questions about the intervention it intends to make in the form of reviewing of the results.
It is disturbing that the headquarters of the Electoral Commission is getting involved in the results. There have often been issues with the appointment of the EC’s commissioners, especially the Chairperson, by a President whose party or who himself takes part in the voting. Some political parties have leveled serious allegations of bias and manipulation of the outcome of the results against the heads of the EC. However, their arguments are often defeated by the fact that the commissioners and heads at the headquarters of the Electoral Commission often have no way of influencing the outcome. This is because, on Election Day, they do not play any significant roles at the polling station and constituencies, and they don’t interfere with the results from the constituencies. If we allow the head office of the EC to review results, determine over-voting and other irregularities, and decide on what to do, the process can be undermined especially if we ever get corrupt or politically compromised persons at the top. It can undermine our democratic process.
The EC should stick to the decentralized nature of the election process so that those at the top will have very little or no influence on the outcome of our elections. Besides, if the party agents at the national collation centre have issues with a particular constituency result, they must prove why. By the time the results at the constituency collation centres get to the national collation centres, the party agents there should have the certified figures from their constituencies. They ought to also have specific concerns, if any, as the reason they should not sign certain results.
It doesn’t make sense for the EC to tell us that the party agents at the national collation centres want to see pink sheets from the polling station before they sign the results and that the commission had called for the pink sheets. The EC gives copies of the pink sheets to the party agents at the polling stations so it does not have any obligation to transport such documents to the parties’ agents at the national level. If what the EC is encouraging is allowed to fester, any political party that is losing the election can hold the nation to ransom. This can undermine the electoral process and threaten our security.
Another reason that makes the EC’s intervention suspicious is what the Chairperson of the Commission said in an interview with the BBC last month. Madam Charlotte Osei said: “Our elections in Ghana tend to be very close. If it is so close, it might be prudent to stop, inform everyone, do a total recount and be sure of what we are announcing finally.”
The EC has not been able to explain what this controversial statement means, but what is happening seems to suggest that this hold-up feeds into the chairperson’s statement. It appears premeditated and raises concerns.
We voted on Wednesday and as of today (Friday) we don’t have a single certified constituency result from the Electoral Commission at the Presidential level. Does it mean the EC is going to audit results from all the constituencies, including those without issues? And does the EC have enough personnel at the Headquarters to review polling station pink sheets from all the 29,000 polling stations across the country? The EC says it is on course to meet its 72-hour deadline, but this is unacceptable to keep the results to the EC’s chest until it is ready all the constituencies. They should release certified results as and when they come in so that we can scrutinize them while we await the final declaration.
There is currently a growing tension in the country because both the governing National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) have claimed they are winning. Results collated by media houses indicate the NPP’s Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo is in a comfortable lead. The Multimedia Group has, in fact, called the election for Nana Akufo-Addo. The NPP has taken journalists on a tour of its collation centre and explained how it arrived at its conclusion. The NDC has not done that. The party has not given any figures. However, it gives hope to its supporters but the body language of the party’s leaders tells us something different.
The Charlotte Osei-led EC has delivered the best election in the recent history of Ghana. The communication unit and strategy of the EC has been near-perfect. The communication directors and the EC Chairperson have been very open, addressing the media as frequently as possible. This has demystified the Electoral Commission and the Electoral process. It has also reduced the spread of wicked rumours and lies that have the potential to fuel tension and create violence in such tensed times as this.
The commission should not negatively offset the good works it has done by giving people the cause to be suspicious of its commitment to a fair, credible and transparent election. The EC should at all times remember that it does not have the power to determine or decide who governs this country. No political party or party agent at the national collation centre has that power. That power is vested in the millions who queued and voted on December 7. The EC is only obliged to guide the process and announce decision taken by the people.
The EC should go ahead and do its work without fear or favour. If anybody feels aggrieved, they should head to the law courts. It is better that way than to provide an opportunity for anybody to hold us to ransom and threaten our peace.
The writer, Manasseh Azure Awuni, is a senior broadcast journalist with Joy 99.7 FM. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed in this article are his personal opinions and do not reflect, in any form or shape, those of The Multimedia Group, where he works.