One of the unpleasant experiences from the 10 October 2023 Presidential and Representative Elections is the number of invalid votes, as announced by the National Elections Commission.
Final results of the polls released by the Commission put total invalid votes at 114,639 out of 1,949,155 total votes cast across the country, representing almost a quarter of the entire votes cast, which is not good for the country. Elections are meant or provide an opportunity for citizens to democratically their leaders but when they appear to lack knowledge, as it were, of the process either because of limited civic voter education or sheer illiteracy, than it is a mockery.
This is not the first time we are experiencing such huge number of invalid votes from elections, but something needs to be done urgently both by the NEC and leaders of political parties, including civil society and media to reverse this ugly trend in our democratic process.
We should not blame it all on the NEC that is faced with serious financial challenges during every election and has to manage with limited resources that are available. This calls for a concerted national effort to educate the public adequately on how to mark their ballots on voting day.
Commenting on the situation recently following the 10 October polls, the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (ESIA) through its Elections Observation Mission (ESIA-EOM) to Liberia expressed deep concern and anxiety over high invalid votes reported across the country.
The Elections Observation Mission notes that huge invalid votes undermine and question electoral integrity and leaves a negative impact on public confidence.
“During the 2017 elections, the number of invalid votes was 83,427 (5.14%) out of 1,539,502 votes. Invalid votes can have a significant impact on the outcome of an election, especially in close races. Invalid votes can also have a negative impact on public confidence in the electoral process. When many votes are thrown out, it can lead to allegations of irregularities and other malpractices. This can undermine public trust in the legitimacy of the government. There are several factors that can contribute to high rate of invalid votes, but there are also several measures that can be taken to reduce them”, a report released by the ESIA-EOM read.
At the same time it underscored the importance of civic and voter education as a measure to reduce invalid votes, and that government should recognize the importance of supporting budgets that enable this crucial function in electoral democracies like Liberia while adding that election officials should also be properly trained on how to process ballots and identify invalid votes.
“Whenever election budgets are tight, electoral commissions often cut funding to civic and voter education. In some cases, international donors fill the gap, but the importance of CVE in strengthening electoral democracy is too important to rely only on external support, and electoral commissions and national governments should review their financial support to the vital function that voter education plays in reducing invalid votes. In this way, governments invest in their most important resource, the voters themselves”, the ESIA-EOM recommended.
We couldn’t have agreed with the ESIA Elections Observation Mission any better. This will require long-term adequate planning and budgetary support in addressing the issue of invalid votes during elections. But with barely a week away to the 14 November runoff, both the CDC and the UP need to conduct daily Civic Voter Education, using foot soldiers (loyal partisans) to educate citizens on how to vote in order to see a reduction in this trend, moving forward.