Deceptive Pre-election Practices, Deliberate Disenfranchisement: A Restriction on the Fundamental Right to Vote

The right to vote is a fundamental cornerstone of our country’s democracy. The constitution of Ghana states:

“Every citizen of Ghana of eighteen years of age or above and of sound mind has the right to vote and is entitled to be registered as a voter for the purposes of public elections and referenda.”

Let’s be honest here, voter suppression decisions are about one thing- making it harder for some particular group of people to have a say in the future of our country. The right of every citizen to participate in our democracy should be guaranteed. This is why our registration system should not be designed to ensure that people (qualified to vote) are not indirectly disadvantaged or disenfranchised. The constitution of Ghana will always remain supreme. The constitution specifically prescribes the manner how power and function of the 3 organs of the government will be exercised and it is the solemn expression of the will of the people. If any other law is inconsistent with the 1992 constitution that other law shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void. The Electoral Commission’s strict ID laws and other measures , deliberately introduced to make it harder for a section of the populace to register is inconsistent with the constitution. Voter registration is intended to ensure that everyone entitled to vote can do so. The accuracy of the voter register is a key element in ensuring that all qualified constituents can enjoy the right to vote.

Voter registration should begin with the premise that all citizens who have reached the required age have the right to vote as guaranteed by the constitution. According to the United Nations standard, people should not be denied registration as voters on the basis of such factors as race, sex or religion.

The right to vote is violated if the legal framework makes it difficult for a person to register to vote, as a person who is not registered cannot legally vote. The right to vote is also violated if the legal framework fails to ensure accuracy in voter register or facilitates fraudulent voting. The international standard for voter registration is that the register must be comprehensive, inclusive, accurate and up to date, and the process must be fully transparent. The process should not deny people the right to register, but should facilitate the registration of all qualified voters, while at the same time safeguarding against the registration of ineligible persons.

The international standard requires that voter registers be systematically updated and corrected in a transparent manner to allow electoral participants and voters the opportunity to review their accuracy. The legal framework should also provide for voter register to be updated either on a continuous basis or periodically by a certain cut off date, in advance of polling.

It is the responsibility of the citizens and in this case the political actors to check that the electoral commission does not fall outside the dictates of the constitution when exercising its powers as an independent body. This process would normally require individual(s) or the political actors to bring a case against the commission or even government in exercise of their right as citizens or legitimate organizations living in Ghana. This is why the Peace Council got it wrong when it admonished political parties and actors to allow the EC to do its work. And it is also the reason why Hon. Ayariga has raised issues with portions of the CI presented to Parliament by the commission. Martin Luther King Jnr. marched from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965 in protest of attempts by white legislators across the south to prevent African Americans from voting. At the time, black people outnumbered White people in Selma but comprised only 2% of the voting roll. Registration of voters accounts for a considerable portion of the EC’s budget because of its importance to the whole election process. If conducted well, voter registration confers legitimacy on the process. If the registration system and conduct is flawed, the entire process may be perceived as illegitimate. It is time consuming that is why ECOWAS’s Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance Section II on election in Article 2 (1) states that “No substantial modification shall be made to the electoral laws in the last six (6) months before the elections, except with the consent of a majority of political parties”

Article 2(2) States that : All the elections shall be organized on the dates or at periods fixed by the constitution or electoral laws”

Our electoral laws states the (time intervals) when registrations should be done, when the rolls should reach the parties to enable them make their assessment and evaluation

Is Ghana a democracy? If so, why does it deny millions the vote. These are some of the tactic autocrats and compromised election organisers use to suppress votes-

-Strict ID laws

-Closing polling stations (places) abruptly

-Purging voter rolls.

They deliberately apply these tactic(s) to make it difficult for a section of the populace to exercise their democratic right (to vote). Any supporting legislation or regulation introduced by the electoral commission via Parliament should better or improve the process of registration to make the process more open and transparent. They shouldn’t narrow the space or undermine the fundamental right of an eligible voter to register .Fear of being infected by the coronavirus shouldn’t deny qualified constituents the right to be registered. It is the responsibility of the state to protect the citizenry from the disease’s threat. And a qualified citizen should not be denied the right to have his name on the voter roll because he or she does not have a Ghanaian passport, or an NIA card. Government should rather focus on improving our birth and deaths registration system to help the system have accurate data for our future elections. The state’s failure to improve the system should not undermine a citizen’s right to register.

The two main systems of voter registration are : self-initiated and state-initiated. Each can have an impact on citizens participation in elections. With the self initiated systems or affirmative systems, electors must take the initiative and register themselves to vote. Systems of this type are somewhat more likely to exclude ineligible persons such as those who have died or those who have permanently emigrated from the country. The state initiated registration system or passive systems, are those in which the electors are automatically registered by the election authorities or the state. In some countries, authorities conduct door-to-door registration of voters, often repeating the process to make sure all qualified constituents are captured on the roll before each election. If we have opted for the state initiated system, then it behooves on the state and the commission to ensure that citizens are not denied the right to be registered to vote.

Elections are complex administrative exercise. Free and fair elections require free and fair administrators. In 2013, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Shelby v. Holder that voting laws had resulted in voter suppression and discrimination. In the United States, in 2013, discriminatory voter ID laws arose following the supreme court’s decision to strike down section 4 of the voting rights Act, which some argue amount to voter suppression among African Americans. In Texas, a voter ID law requiring a driver’s license, passport, military identification, or gun permit, was repeatedly found to be intentionally discriminatory. In Wisconsin, a federal judge found that the state’s restrictive voter ID law led to “real incidents of disenfranchisement, which undermine rather than enhance confidence in elections, particularly in minority communities” people have interpreted Trump’s establishment of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity as moves towards voter suppression. The commission is led by Kobach, who is a staunch advocate of strict voter ID laws. The bottom line line is, the introduction of the new ID laws by the electoral commission is a strategy it is going to use in collaboration with the incumbent to influence the outcome of the 2020 election.

From eliminating the existing voters card, to introduction of the new identification documents, these undemocratic barriers will block a section of Ghanaians (in strongholds of the opposition) from exercising their basic civil right to register and vote.

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