Carter Center Releases Findings From its Observation of Ghana's Voter Registration
26 August 2008
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Deborah Hakes, 404-420-5124
Carter Center observers in Ghana found the voter registration process that took place July 31-August 12 to be generally successful but hampered by several irregularities.
Despite notable weaknesses in the implementation of the limited registration effort, the overall credibility of the Ghanaian electoral process has not been lost. Most polling officials and political party agents completed their duties with commendable professionalism. The Carter Center believes that the electoral commission has the capacity to conduct the December elections in a professional and transparent manner. However, significant confidence building and corrective measures must be undertaken to bolster the public trust that all political actors are committed to respect the rules as set out in the constitution and the electoral law, to conduct a clean campaign, and to produce credible election results.
The limited voter registration exercise aimed to provide an opportunity for those who have recently turned 18 or were absent from the voter register for other reasons to register in time to participate in the Dec. 7 presidential and parliamentary elections.
The concerns of Carter Center observers included multiple delays in the dates of the voter registration period, widespread shortage of essential materials, a lack of adequate voter education and civic awareness, and acts of intimidation committed by the two main political parties, sometimes leading to violence. These issues are further described in the following report.
The Carter Center delegation of international observers was in Ghana from July 17 to August 13 to observe the limited voter registration exercise and to assess preparations for the 2008 presidential and parliamentary elections. The observers visited seven of Ghana's ten regions (Greater Accra, Ashanti, Central, Eastern, Northern, Volta, and Western) and had permanent teams placed in the Greater Accra, Ashanti, Northern and Volta regions throughout the course of their one-month observation mission. The Center will continue to monitor election preparations as Ghana moves toward the Dec. 7 elections.
The following report summarizes the Center's assessment of Ghana's limited voter registration exercise, which took place July 31- August 12.
Voter Education and Civic Awareness
Efforts of Ghana's election commission (EC), National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE), and civil society organizations to educate voters on registration procedures included posters, radio and television advertisements. However, Carter Center observers reported that these efforts were too limited to properly educate the public on the procedures and objectives of the voter registration exercise.
Despite the lack of adequate outreach, the overall turnout was very high (more so in urban than rural areas) and exceeded the EC's estimate of 800,000 to one million potential registrants.
The Role of Political Parties
Party agents from the two largest political parties, the New Patriotic Party and the National Democratic Congress, were seen at every registration center visited by Center observers.
Party agents in a number of registration centers acted as substitutes for the election officials in determining the eligibility of citizens to register. In some cases, the eligibility of registrants was determined outside of the official procedure leading to concerns about foreign, underage, or multiple registration attempts. In other stations, the political parties provided food for the election officials. These actions could compromise the appearance of impartiality on the part of the EC.
Carter Center observers also noted frequent party-sanctioned busing in swing vote areas. The busing could have been legitimate in some cases. However, inadequate citizen education about the registration process coupled with the possibility that the busing was the product of political party attempts to rig the voter's roll fuelled public suspicions that could undermine the credibility of the registration.
Impact of Material Shortages
A lack of essential registration materials was reported in all of the regions visited by Center observers. Missing materials ranged from batteries for cameras to registration forms to a sufficient number of printers.
These equipment shortages led to long delays and increased tension among citizens and political party representatives. This tension in turn led to some election officials taking shortcuts to expedite the process.
Center observers noted the use of older Polaroid cameras instead of the newly procured digital cameras. In some areas, non-serialized registration forms were used in place of the standard forms. These forms lacked space for photographs and led to confusion among election officers, political party agents, observers, and citizens who were attempting to register.
The shortages also caused suspicion from the political parties and the media about why the shortages existed if the EC had received all necessary funding for electoral activities.
Political Violence, Intimidation, and Intolerance
Although not widespread, cases of violence and intimidation were recorded at registration centers in the Ashanti and Northern regions. Observers also witnessed confrontations between registrants and EC officials that potentially could have degenerated to violence and disruption of the registration process. In many instances, EC officials were afraid for their safety.
In several areas visited by Center observers, it was clear that the lack of political tolerance produced an intimidating environment. In some cases, those situations devolved into violent confrontations between supporters of the two dominant political parties.
The Carter Center believes that the Electoral Commission of Ghana has the capacity to conduct the December elections in a professional and transparent manner. The Carter Center found that most registration officials and party agents showed professionalism during the limited voter registration exercise. However, the observed irregularities will require the careful attention of the EC and all Ghanaians.
The Carter Center observation team offers the following conclusions and recommendations:
The Carter Center conducts its activities in a nonpartisan, professional manner in accordance with applicable national laws and international standards for election observation set forth in the Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation that was adopted at the United Nations in 2005.
A not-for-profit, nongovernmental organization, The Carter Center has helped to improve life for people in more than 70 countries by resolving conflicts; advancing democracy, human rights, and economic opportunity; preventing diseases; improving mental health care; and teaching farmers in developing nations to increase crop production. The Carter Center was founded in 1982 by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, in partnership with Emory University, to advance peace and health worldwide.