The Better Future Foundation (BFF), proponent of Liberia Democracy Sustainability Platform (DSP), in collaboration with Partners for Democracy and Good Governance (PdG), has released its Preliminary Report concerning the deployment of its 177 election observers and the monitoring of the conduct of the October 10, 2023, Presidential and Legislative elections in the country.
In a press release issued in Monrovia Tuesday, BFF said it mobilized 177 election observers who were trained and subsequently deployed in 13 of Liberia’s 15 counties ahead of the 10 October 2023 Presidential and Legislative elections.
The release indicated that the training and deployment of the elections observers by BFF and Partners were aimed at, among others, complementing the efforts of the Government of Liberia, through the National Elections Commission (NEC), not only for the smooth, transparent, free and fair conduct of October 10 elections, but also the consolidation and sustenance of Liberia’s hard-won peace and democracy.
The Pre-election Training Program which had, as its Theme: “Taking Ownership for Peace & Democracy in Liberia” was implemented by BFF, in collaboration with its Partners including the PdG Network Observers, representing a Consortium of more than 20 civil society, human rights, and pro-democracy organizations, and CBOs, including the National Teachers Association of Liberia (NTAL).
The release quoted BFF Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Augustine Arkoi, as saying the training and subsequent deployment of the election observers were inspired by their shared desire for strategic collaboration to promote peace, democracy and good governance in Liberia and the West African Subregion.
The preliminary report, therefore, contains BFF’s initial assessment, findings and observations, as well as recommendations relative to the Tuesday, October 10, 2023 Presidential and Legislative Elections in Liberia that attracted the presence of more than two dozen international and local elections observers, human rights groups, diplomatic and other foreign missions.
According to Rev. Arkoi, the Better Future Foundation, in collaboration with PdG, and other Partners, has been working tirelessly with various CSOs and scores of local and international Observers, leading to effective monitoring of the 10, October, 2023 polls which, based on their collective assessment, were generally conducted in a peaceful and non-violence atmosphere with mass participation of voters across the country.
Rev. Arkoi, in the release, indicated that BFF and its collaborating Partners are therefore intrigued by the massive turnout of registered voters who eagerly and patiently exercised their constitutional rights as enshrined in Article 1 of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia.
Article 1 of the Liberian constitution states in part that all power is inherent in the people and that all free governments are instituted by their authority and for their benefit and they have the right to alter and reform same when their safety and happiness so required.
The BFF believes that the mass participation in Tuesday’s polls is a clear testimony that Liberians are not only becoming increasingly conscious of their enormous power in deciding the leadership of the country and taking ownership of its peace and democracy but also safeguarding their happiness and safety via the ballot box as enshrined in the Nation’s Constitution.
Howbeit, BFF and its partners, noted that the October 2023 polls were marred by several challenges, lapses, and shortcomings on the part of the National Election Commission; and particularly the Government of Liberia that had the principal obligation to timely and adequately finance the works of the National Elections Commission, NEC.
The BFF Report identified some of the key issues that have had significant impacts on the electoral process including but not limited to the followings: Liberian government’s failure to adequately train poll workers and first-time voters, poor choice of polling venues, resulting in last-minute changes on polling day, overcrowding, and lack of security personnel in some polling places to ensure law and order.
The BFF Preliminary Report pointed out that the below listed shortcomings as discovered by its election observers must be addressed to dispel apprehensions and concerns about the transparency, efficiency, and fairness of the electoral process in Liberia.
Insufficient Training of Poll Workers, voters and civic education:
One of the major challenges observed during the elections is the Liberian government’s failure to provide adequate training for poll workers.
Poll workers play a crucial role in ensuring the smooth conduct of elections, including maintaining order, verifying voter credentials, and managing the overall voting process. Inadequate training leads to series of confusion, errors in tabulation, and delays on voting day.
Reports from our observers at various polling stations indicate that many poll workers were ill-prepared, lacked knowledge of electoral procedures, and struggled to address voter inquiries effectively, hence, slowing the process for protracted time interval.
Report from Precinct 24142, Helena Nymaday Memorial Academy, Goshen Community, District 1 Margibi County, validates this sad reality as some poll workers delayed the process owing to their demonstrated inability to understand the basics.
BFF also gathered that some precincts around the country, including Monrovia, registered significant number of invalid votes which points to lack of proper voter education.
Our observers from Precinct 45015, District 2, Gbarnga-Gborketa, Gbarpolu County, reported over 36 invalid votes just from one polling place.
Many voters, mostly women who are illiterate requested assistance from poll workers to exercise their rights to vote, but were not assisted, hence, contributed to the increase of invalid votes.
This lack of training has contributed to voters frustration and eroded confidence in the election process, and if not addressed, may impact future national elections.
But this challenge that NEC faces also raises questions as to whether or not funds intended for voters and poll workers education were provided to NEC by the Central government which is the principal financier of the National Elections Commission and used for its intended purposes.
Poor Venue Selection and Last-Minute Changes:
The choice of appropriate venues for polling stations is vital to ensure accessibility, convenience, and efficiency for voters.
However, the authority’s poor venue selection triggered last-minute changes on election day.
Inadequate planning and assessment of the venues have led to issues such as insufficient space to accommodate voters, inadequate facilities, and logistical challenges.
This has caused confusion among voters, delays in the voting in some polling centers, and overcrowding of alternative venues.
Our observers reported from Precinct 30226, Peace Island, New Hope Community, Bassa Town, situated in a muddy and watery area, and unventilated building, which does not meet the minimum standard to be a polling place.
The centers were in close proximity to each other, a situation which resulted to overcrowding and voters’ suffocation in the area.
Failure to maintain order:
Despite efforts to establish clear guidelines, the shortage of security personnel affected the smooth functioning process at various precincts on polling day.
Many polling stations were overwhelmed by the sheer number of voters; Unorganized layout of some precincts led to confusion, long waiting times, and caused frustration among many voters especially the physically challenged.
In Kpassagizia, Lofa County electoral district 5, precinct 21058, our observers noted the lack of order in some places as breast feeding mothers, physically challenged persons, and pregnant women faced difficulties in having access to vote due to the lapses, such as maintaining order.
These conditions posed threats to public health and risks on voting day in that part of the country, among others.
Other factors affected order and sanctity of the electoral process included infiltration and unauthorized use of observers tags by unscrupulous individuals to enter voting precincts illegally.
Reports from some precincts across Montserrado confirmed the use of tags by some members of the governing Coalition for Democratic Change with the reported signature of their Party Chairman, Mulbah Morlu, seeking access to polling precincts as election observers.
It was also noted that other groups and individuals impersonated as representatives of various NGOs and parties in order to gain access to polling rooms as well for reasons best known to the impersonators.
We also gathered consistent information from locals that highlighted the participation of some individuals believed to be non-Liberians in the October 10 polls.
Some of the concerned individuals, on voting day traveled from neighboring Republic of Guinea to Liberia. They claimed to be partly Guinean and Liberian nationals as they were in possession of Liberian voting cards.
These individuals, after casting their ballots, publicly claimed that they were recruited by an unnamed Liberian politician for support at the polls, but the politician allegedly failed to meet his financial obligations to them.
Delay in delivery of Election Materials was also recorded by observers across the country.
It is without a doubt that the timely delivery of election materials, including ballot papers, among other materials to voting centers remains crucial for the smooth conduct of elections.
However, reports indicate that there have been notable delays in the delivery of these materials to polling stations.
Reasons for the delays vary, including logistical challenges, transportation issues, bad road conditions, inadequate planning, and administrative inefficiencies. Our observer reported from precinct 39011, Draoh Central High School, Karquokpo City, District Number 2, Sinoe County regarding late delivery and incident of rain damaging ballot papers. Similar incident occurred in Rivercess County.
Nevertheless, these delays have resulted in postponement of the commencement of voting, causing inconveniences for both voters and election officials; thereby denying hundreds of Liberians their fundamental right to vote.
Delays relative to commencement time can disrupt the planned sequence of voting and create a backlog of voters, potentially resulting in overcrowding and long wait times. This situation undermined the principle and rights of timely access to voting and can lead to voter disenfranchisement and apathy.
Consequently, this may lead to extended voting hours or a potential need for alternative measures to accommodate all eligible voters. As is the case already reported by our observers in District #4, Precinct 30482 where the voting of several persons was delayed, far beyond the closing time of polling.
Predicated upon these challenges and the need to enhance voters participation in elections, peacebuilding and democracy, BFF, in collaboration with partners wishes to advance the following recommendations.
That the National Elections Commission (NEC) should explore adequate funding support from its development partners aimed at providing increased civic and voters education across the country.
That the Government of Liberia should make available adequate and timely financial support to the NEC for smooth and uninterrupted implementation of its electoral obligations.
That NEC performs all of its electoral obligations within the required constitutional timeframe, especially the availability of the Final Registration Roll (FRR) to stakeholders.
That there should be vigorous monitoring and enforcement of Campaign Finance Regulations to not only prevent abuse of power & public resources, but fairness for all political parties/aspirants.
That Government invests in building community centers, and road infrastructure to support peaceful political and election related activities.
Regardless of these lapses and challenges, the Better Future Foundation, in collaboration with Partners for Democracy and Good Governance, working with various CSOs and International Observers has observed an overall positive electoral outcome from the massive turnout of enthusiastic and peaceful citizens wanting their voices to be heard via the ballot box.
The overall atmosphere was peaceful, friendly and satisfactory as citizens put aside their differences to vote and patiently awaited results even after midnight.
Locals have also used the election to settle tribal dispute in governance as citizens of Sinoe unanimously voted for a neutral candidate in a place with long standing tribally driven politics which have over the years brought tensions between major tribal groups in the region.
This is indubitably a huge success for democracy in Liberia. At last, the common people are proving that they have the power to maintain or remove leaders in position of public trust.
In the face of these tangible democratic gains, our observers on Sunday, October 15, 2023, regrettably recorded that the Nation’s Elections Commission (NEC) arrested four persons, including a female Presiding Officers (PO) representing 4 different polling places and precincts for intentionally manufacturing numbers, inflicting votes by 102 (instead of 73) in favor of an incumbent Lawmaker of the Coalition of Democratic Change (CDC).
The incident took place at Montserrado, District #8, Richard Nixon, precinct 30364, polling place #1.
Similar malpractice, according to our observer, also took place in Montserrado, District #15, precinct 30135 AC Moseh Thina School, polling place #2, where 100 votes (instead of 21 votes) was intentionally inflicted in favor of Aspirant Francis D. Dickson of LINU Political Party.
Reporting from the same SKD Tally Center, our observer noted that NEC arrested, and turned over to the Liberia National Police (LNP), another woman who served as Presiding Officer (PO) in Montserrado District # 15, polling place #6 in Logan Town, Bushrod Island, where she allegedly inflicted 135 votes in favor of Independent Senatorial Candidate, Saranfoday Kenneh.
Meanwhile, the Better Future Foundation, in collaboration with Partners for Democracy & Good Governance commends the National Elections Commission, and its Supervisors/Magistrates represented by Mr. Vopea Gongloe for their impartial and professional oversight that led to the arrest of these suspected unscrupulous individuals who allegedly attempted to not only defraud our electoral system, but undermine the hard-won peace and democracy in Liberia.
BFF, and pro-democracy partners of the human rights community, therefore request the Liberia National Police, through the Ministry of Justice, to institute full and comprehensive investigation bordering these acts of criminality and prosecute to logical conclusion offenders, including persons who recently disrupted the smooth operations of tallying centers in the SKD Sports Complex in Monrovia; and in Nimba County, running away with two ballot boxes that have resulted to NEC announcing of a rerun of the voting process in that location.
Finally, we call on all defeated presidential, senatorial and representative candidates, who may not be successful at polls, per the announcement of NEC’s Final election results, to muster the courage and graciously concede defeat based on the popular will of voters.