The quest for a new voters’ register has been one of the biggest controversies in the run-up to Ghana’s 2020 general elections.
Origin of controversy
The idea for a new voters’ register pre-dates the 2020 election cycle. The then opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) first made the claim that the register that was used for the 2012 election was bloated. At the time, General Secretary Kwabena Agyapong claimed, “The electoral register in its current state is incurably flawed and cannot be relied on for the all-important 2016 election.” He further added that, “a fresh registration will go a long way to rebuild public confidence in the electoral process and this is essential for the successful conduct of a peaceful, free and fair election.”
Vice Presidential Candidate (now Vice President) Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia alleged at a press briefing in 2015 that the Party had discovered names of about 80,000 Togolese nationals in the prevailing voters register.
Let My Vote Count Alliance (LMVCA), a pro-NPP pressure group picked up the Party’s call and rolled out a spirited campaign across the country to get the Electoral Commission (EC) to accede to the call for a new register. All through this period, the governing National Democratic Congress (NDC) under the leadership of President John Mahama supported the Commission’s refusal to compile a new register.
Tried as they did, the Commission did not budge. Instead, the Commission rolled out a limited voters’ registration exercise that opened the door for persons not registered to get their names enrolled in the register.
To advance the case for a new register, Abu Ramadan secured a ruling from the Supreme Court that rendered voter cards issued based on the national health insurance cards invalid. The EC later informed the Court that they had deleted nearly 60,000 names from the register in accordance with the Court’s directive. Opportunity was given to those whose names were deleted to re-register using other definite means to prove citizenship.
Present day issues
Regardless of the fact that the NPP won the 2016 elections, the Party did not relent in its quest for a new voters’ register. Somehow, new leadership at the EC opined that there was need for a new register. The Commission indicated that current biometric verification devices needed to be replaced because they were outmoded. They also make the case that the cost of overhauling the voter management system and compiling a new register would be less than maintaining or upgrading the existing one.
Civil society groups notably Imani Africa and others as well as the now opposition NDC have challenged the reasons espoused by the Commission’s new leadership. The NDC and other opposition parties formed a coalition to resist the compilation of the register. They organized series of protests in major Ghanaian cities and submitted petitions to eminent statesmen including Ex-Presidents Jerry Rawlings and John Kufuor as well as Asantehene Otumfuo Osei Tutu II.
The NDC continued its agitation by citing the ongoing Covid-19 global pandemic; that the registration exercise could lead to further spread of the virus in Ghana. The EC refuted that, claiming that they would observe WHO’s enhanced hygiene and social distancing protocols.
The Constitutional Instrument (CI 126) that operationalizes the move to compile a new register gave birth to a controversy regarding citizenship. The CI stipulates that only passports and national identification cards would be accepted as source documents to verify citizenship and identity of people who apply for the voter’s identity card. The NDC alleged that since most Ghanaians do not have either of the two, many Ghanaians could be disenfranchised.
The EC shot back that the CI takes care of that situation. A vouching system allows a registered person to ascertain the citizenship of a person without any of the two identification mechanisms. Thus, any person who does not have the national identification card and/or passport needs to find two people who have either of those cards and have registered with the Commission to guarantee for them to be registered.
Supreme Court cases
After all efforts failed, the NDC took its case to the Supreme Court. In summary, they asked the Court to interpret Article 45(a) of the 1992 Constitution which mandates the EC “compile the register of voters, and revise it at such periods as may be determined by law.” They prayed to the Court to declare that a register of voters could be compiled once and subsequently revised, not redone. This part of their case was abandoned because the Court asked the plaintiff to choose between this and another relief they sought.
This case found its way back to the court when Mark Takyi-Benson filed a writ at the same Court, leading to the consolidation of his case with that of the NDC.
Secondly, the NDC prayed the Court to order the EC to accept previous identity cards issued previously as proof of identity and citizenship for applicants. Other reliefs were sought too but the Supreme Court’s decision went to reinforce the provisions in the CI 126. The judgement brought finality to the matter and cleared the way for the Commission to proceed with the compilation of a new register.
NDC’s flagbearer, ex-President John Mahama disagreed with the Court’s judgment but urged his Party’s supporters and Ghanaians in general to participate in the registration exercise. He also urged those who get the opportunity to register to endeavor to “assist your brother, sister and compatriot by guaranteeing for them even if it takes a bit more of your time.” He further entreated all to, “See this as a civic duty and your contribution to the effort to preserve the right to vote.”
Clean slate and opportunity for all
Despite the reasons given by the Court, the EC’s timeline for the registration has kicked in and the process is ongoing. To make our democracy more meaningful, it is important for all Ghanaians who are 18 years and above to support the Commission by participating in the exercise.
It is only by registering that we can exercise our sacred right to vote. Whether we agree with the Commission or not, whether we agree with the Supreme Court or not, if we do not make ourselves available to be enrolled onto the new register, we cannot vote in December. The vouching system ensures that no one will be left behind. All hands must be on deck to drive our nation’s progress forward.
In conclusion, the outcome of the Supreme Court decision does not seek to disenfranchise anyone but rather opens the door to allow all eligible Ghanaians to register and vote.
By Terry Mante
Fellow of Ghana Forward, a non-partisan political movement dedicated to promoting and advancing economic development, visionary leadership and good governance.