On Tuesday, August 23, 2011, registered Liberian voters queued at various designated centers throughout the country for what many well-meaning Liberians referred to as a “less enthusiastic” National Referendum under the supervision of the National Elections Commission as provided for by Article 91 of the Liberian Constitution.
Truly to our predictions on Monday, August 22, 2011, the first National Referendum in twenty-five years was marred by ballot error (two separate ballots) only recognized on the day of the exercise not by Commissioners and officials of the National Elections Commission or NEC, but voters, including one Johnson Seo of New Kru Town who had called on a radio talk show to make the disclosure.
It was later confirmed throughout the country that one set of ballot papers featured a change of the retirement age of judges from 70 to 75 years, while the other, 75 to 75 years for the second preposition. But NEC’s Deputy Referendum Coordinator Amos Koukou, in a radio clarification following the revelation by voters, attributed the error to the printers in Denmark. According to him, the ballots arrived with the mistake already printed.
He apologized for the error, pleading with the public to understand that it was not deliberate. According to Koukou, a disclaimer was posted on the same day at the various polling centers with instructions on how to vote despite the error. But NEC’s Chairman James Fromayan, in an un-passionate and emotional mood, described the error as inadvertent and harmless, assuming that any ‘rational person’ should have selected either of the “75’s” without any qualm.
However, we totally disagree with Fromayan for his deliberate defense that the error was inadvertent and harmless. The NEC Chairman is also telling Liberians that they at the Elections Commission were not “rational enough” to have scanned the ballots, reviewed and proofread, before printing them. We are even disappointed for James Fromayan to suggest to the people of Liberia that he and his officials at NEC did not identify the error upon the arrival of the ballot papers, before the conduct of the referendum so as to immediately begin the damage control.
We are even wondering as to why the National Elections Commission would want Liberians to believe its attribution when what it gave the printer was exactly what it did. We do accept the fact that in every electoral process, there are irregularities, but for ours to result to the printing of two separate ballot papers is something beyond ‘rationality’.
For Chairman Fromayan and his officials to be ‘un-necessarily sentimental and defensive’ about an error that would have been very harmful to our political existence, is very unfortunate and dangerous. Judging from the utterances of Fromayan and his officials, any rational person would conclude that NEC committed an intentional error-a blunder they must admit and appeal for forgiveness.
Additionally, while the poor turn-out at Tuesday’s National Referendum may be attributed to the inability of thousands of voters to return to enters to which they were initially conveyed for registration by individuals aspiring for elected posts later this year, NEC must also be held responsible due to the poor awareness it created nation-wide.
Other than collaborating with impact-making groups/organizations for effective and efficient civic and voters’ education, Chairman Fromayan and others chose to prioritize non impact-making groups of their interest and close associates for the campaign whose result was the voter apathy experienced on Tuesday.
These and many more only raise serious ‘eye-brows’ at Fromayan and others at NEC to conduct credible elections in Liberia. And if the ensuing general and presidential elections must be fair, transparent and successful, extra measures in terms of reviewing NEC’s past and present, must be taken to avoid future occurrences.