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Gbarpolu: Voter education not reaching all the voters

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Uncertainty over the referendum continues to grow as voters find it increasingly difficult to understand what they are expected to vote on, and officials try to bring some clarity on whether or not the referendum will even take place on December 8.

Esther Kollie of Gaynimah town, who is voting for the first time, said that the entire process is a mystery to her, as no one told her anything about what she is expected to do on December 8. Speaking of the referendum, she is even more confused. “Even my parents don’t know what you are talking about,” she told our reporter when she was asked about the referendum. “I thought you have come to explain to us”, she told the reporter.

Esther Kollie of Gaynimah will vote for the first time, but has no information about the process
Liberians are expected at the voting booths on December 8 to cast ballots in the race for the 15 Senate seats and two vacated seats in the House of Representatives. In addition, the NEC began organizing for the holding of the national referendum on the same day with the legislative elections, but a recent ruling by the Supreme Court complicated the matters even further.

SunnieWennie, the coordinator for people living with disabilities in Gbarpolucounty, emphasized that there is a pronounced lack of awareness among voters who do not fully understand much about the referendum. He placed the blame on the central government due to failure to allocate sufficient and timely funds for the voter awareness campaign.

Mr. Wennie fears that the confusion may lead to potential violence if authorities, such as the National Elections Commission, do not take immediate steps to properly educate the voters. He called on the government to find remedy to the situation to avoid the country reverting to crisis.

The national referendum to be held on December 8
On November 18, the Supreme Court of Liberia instructed the National Elections Commission (NEC) to print separate ballots for each of the proposition in the national referendum, as a result of a petition filed by the opposition Collaborating Political Parties (CPP). The ruling made many to believe that the entire referendum was canceled, however, the Executive Mansion, seat of the Liberian Presidency has maintained the referendum will be held on December 8, 2020 as planned.

On November 23, Liberia’s Minister of State for Presidential Affairs, Nathaniel F. McGill, stated that the referendum will be held as scheduled.

Addressing a news conference in Monrovia, Minister McGill said: “As you know, as soon as the Supreme Court came up with its ruling, people were celebrating; they said the referendum was canceled; the referendum is not canceled.” He said that the National Elections Commission is already printing ballots for the referendum in line with the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Solicitor-General Cllr. SaymahSyreniousCephus, said that there will be a separate ballot paper for each of the Constitution’s articles proposed for the amendment, and stated that “the referendum is on course.”
Voters ask more education

Senior Electoral Magistrate of Gbarpolucounty, Ernest Mccay, said that even though citizens are persistently complaining of poor education on the voting process, there is currently a “massive awareness” campaign on both the elections and the referendum.

But acting chief of Gaynimah town in Bopolu district, Gbarpolu county, Willie Johnson, noted that many voters are illiterate, including those voting for first time, and they may not clearly understand the various propositions in the referendum in order to make informed decisions.

Acting chief of Gaynimah town Willie Johnson, says that voters have not been educated on the referendum
During a week-long tour of towns and villages in the county, Chief Johnson explained that since the beginning of the electoral process, he has only heard that polls will held on December 8, but that there has never been civic and voter education in his town.

The Chairperson for the Liberia Motorcycle Transport Union branch in Gbarpolu County, SekouKromah, said that considering that youths are the majority population of the country, and most of them are registered voters, adequate education on the referendum should be carried out to limit the number of invalid votes when the ballots are tallied.

Senator Jallah, who is seeking re-election, agreed that not much has been done in educating the electorate about the pending referendum. Senate candidate Allen Gbowee stressed that the elections are very critical to sustaining a peaceful democracy in Liberia and that if the referendum is held, massive awareness should have been conducted a year prior to the vote.

By D. Solomon Tayblah (LMD Fellow)

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