The Electoral Commission (EC’s) decision to use the Ghana Card as the only source document for continuous voter registration can disenfranchise millions of qualified electorate, a former Chairman of the EC, Dr Kwadwo Afari-Gyan, has stated.
Speaking exclusively to Graphic Online, he said with many Ghanaians finding it difficult to get their Ghana Cards, making it the only form of identification for voter registration was against electoral inclusivity, fairness and justice.
“Ghanaian citizens don’t lose their citizenship if they are 18 years or older but do not have the Ghana Card. So, the moot question is: why make the Ghana Card the only means of identification for purposes of establishing eligibility to register to vote,” Dr Afari-Gyan queried.
The longest-serving chairperson of the EC in the history of the country was sharing his thoughts in a statement made available to Graphic Online exclusively on a new Constitutional Instrument (C.I.) on voter registration which has been laid before Parliament by the EC.
The Executive Secretary of the National Identification Authority (NIA), Professor Kenneth Attafuah, disclosed to the media last month that his outfit had handed over 15.7 million Ghana Cards to Ghanaians, out of 16,969,034, who had registered.
For Dr Afari-Gyan, who served for 22 years between 1993 and 2015, the fact that the number of people with Ghana Cards included those below the voting age of 18, and juxtaposing that with the Ghana Statistical Service’s projection that people aged 18 years and above would hit 19.5 million in 2023, the potential for many people to be disenfranchised as a result of the use of the Ghana Card as the only source document for voter registration was high.
He advised the EC to take a careful look at its insistence on the Ghana Card because in spite of its crucial role in elections, the EC was not the decider of elections, but rather the electorate.
“The electorate are the kingmakers. So, a basic responsibility of any electoral commission is to facilitate the realisation of the people’s right to register as voters, and not to obstruct that right by demanding for registration purposes documents that are not easily accessible to the people,” he added.
Last month, the EC placed before Parliament a draft C.I titled: Public Elections (Registration of Voters) Regulations, 2021, which is expected to regulate continuous voter registration.
Per the new C.I, which would become law after 21 sitting days of Parliament, the EC is seeking to make the Ghana Card the sole form of identification for eligible voters who want to get unto the electoral roll.
The C.I has been referred to the Subsidiary Legislation Committee of Parliament. By convention, the committee is chaired by a member of the Minority group.
Orders, rules or regulations made pursuant to provisions of the Constitution or an Act of Parliament must be laid before Parliament for 21 sitting days before they come into force.
Any such subsidiary legislations so laid are referred to the committee to determine whether it is in accordance with the general objectives of the constitution or the Act pursuant to which it is being made.
It also determines whether the legislation contains any matter, which in the opinion of the committee should be dealt with in an Act of Parliament; directly or indirectly bars the jurisdiction of the courts; gives retrospective effect to any provision contrary to provisions of the Constitution or an existing Act; involves expenditure from the Consolidated Fund or has a form or structure which calls for further elucidation, among other things.
Even before the EC had laid the new C.I before Parliament, the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) accused the EC of planning to compile a new voters register for the 2024 general election, with the Ghana Card as the only source document.
The Minority Leader in Parliament, Haruna Iddrisu, said any move by the EC to compile a new voters register with the Ghana Card solely as the mode of identification would not bode well for the country, especially when the EC had already expended huge sums of money to compile a new register which was used for the 2020 general election.
The EC debunked the assertion by the NDC and said the new C.I was only meant to regulate continuous registration, with the Ghana Card as the source document.
“We are not compiling a new voters register. The one we compiled in 2020 is a credible one, a very good register so we are not dispensing it,” the Director of Electoral Services of the EC, Dr Serebour Quaicoe, told the media.
Meanwhile, in Parliament, the new C.I laid by the EC caused heated debates, with the Minority calling for the EC to come and explain the rationale for the use of the Ghana Card as the only source document.
At Parliament’s sitting on July 21, this year, the First Deputy Minority Chief Whip, Ibrahim Ahmed, said it was necessary for the EC to brief the House on the new C.I. to erase any “controversial issue of mistrust.”
For his part, the Majority Leader, Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu, rejected the call by the Minority, describing it as premature, adding that the next general election was not yet due.
Another concern raised by Dr Afari-Gyan on the new C.I bothered on the registration centres and registration supervisors for the voter registration exercise.
Per the new C.I, the E.C envisages to conduct the exercise from its district offices, with the district registration supervisor and the registration centre supervisor reporting to the regional officer.
To Dr Afari-Gyan, with the proposed arrangement, it meant fewer registration centres as compared to the number of polling stations, a situation he fears could be problematic with regard to the polling centres that will be assigned to the registered voters, and how the voters will know their assigned polling stations.
“One way to dodge this problem is to use a voters register that is not polling station specific on Election Day,” he said.
With regard to the supervisors, the political scientist and former lecturer advocated that for accountability purposes, the registration reports should not only be sent to the regional officer of the EC, but to the district officer as well, since “the district officers were closer to the registration proceedings in their various districts.”
The former EC boss, who succeeded Justice Josiah Ofori Boateng, who headed the Interim Electoral Commission which conducted the 1992 general election, also faulted the new C.I for proposing two new kinds of voters register, namely electoral area register and constituency register.
Such a move, Dr Afari-Gyan contended, could give rise to multiple voting and ballot stuffing, because the Biometric Verification Devices (BVDs) at the various polling stations were not interlinked to know a voter who had already voted.
“Until such time that the BVDs are configured to be interactive in this way, my concern about any of the two registers being used at the polling station on Election Day is that it opens the door more widely to two kinds of voting infractions, namely multiple voting and ballot stuffing,” he added.