Liberia: Referendum Marred by Huge Number of Invalid Votes; Fails to Attain Constitutional Two-thirds of Registered Voters Votes

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MONROVIA – The ‘YES’ votes in the eight-proposition referendum is leading the ‘NO’ votes but the entire process is marred by the astronomical number of invalid votes being counted.

The invalid votes, FrontPageAfrica has gathered, account for over 60 percent of the total votes in the referendum.

In Grand Cape Mount County for example, the total VALID votes for all propositions (YES and NO votes combined) is 60,764 while the total number of INVALID votes for all propositions is 141,256.

Total VALID votes for all proposition in Grand Bassa County is 50,943 while INVALID votes for all propositions is 76,390.

For Bong County, total VALID votes for all propositions is 194,369 against 403,275 total INVALID votes.

In Rivergee County, the total VALID votes for all propositions is 26,957 and INVALID votes is 85,552.

And so is the trend in all the 15 counties.

The Referendum was conducted against several red flags for the need for proper education on all eight propositions for at least a year as required by the Constitution.

The propositions for the referendum are reduction in the tenure of representatives, shorten time for NEC to hear complaints, reduction of term of senators, dual citizenship, reduction in the term of Speaker and Deputy Speaker, reduction of the term of President and Vice President, reduction of the term of office of the office of President pro-tempore, change in the date of elections.

Calculation of Referendum Results

Section 4A.4 of the Elections Law, under Referendum results states:

“The fraction of two thirds (2/3) required for approval of a question in a referendum is calculated by dividing the number of valid votes cast in approval of the question by the total number of the valid votes cast on the question”.

In an update released by the National Elections Commission, it referenced September 2011 opinion by the Supreme Court that invalid votes shall not be included in the sum of total votes.

Therefore, the total valid votes is calculated by adding the ‘Yes’ votes to the ‘No’ votes.  Of this sum, the NEC would ascertain whether the ‘yes’ votes on each proposition reach two-thirds requirement for approval. If they do, the proposition is approved. If not, the proposition is rejected.

And because the proposition is a national election, the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ votes from the 15 counties (on each proposition) must be added together to determine whether the yes votes reach two-thirds requirement for approval. This process is done for each of the proposition.

Dead on Arrival?

The National Elections Commission reported that reported 2,476,356 registered voters of which two-thirds would 1,650,904.

But the turnout statistics for the senatorial elections is 47.4%, therefore, making it impossible to attain the two-thirds turnout needed for the validating the ‘yes’ votes in the referendum.

This means, even if all the voters in the December 8 Senatorial election had voted ‘yes’ to all the propositions, it wouldn’t still get the two-thirds approval.

According to a pundit, the two-thirds of registered voters’ requirement is a very daunting requirement and many times the government does not give it sufficient thought and, therefore, appear not to understand the full magnitude of the task of amendment of the Constitution.

Red Flags Ignored

It is no surprise that the invalid votes, though having no impact on the result of the referendum, surpass the valid votes. There were so many red flags raised but were ignored by the government and the NEC.

One of those raising red flags on the conduct of the Referendum was the former Chief Justice, Cllr. Gloria Musu Scott, who also chaired the Constitution Review Committee.

She contended that the voting in favor of the propositions might be in the interest of majority of the population, but conducting the referendum hastily without educating bulk of the citizens will signal that there are some sinister motives behind the process.

“This is a history making Process, and the weight of this process should be felt by everybody participating in it. Everybody, from the lowest persons, in terms of position. This is not about your individual will. It is not even about position, it is about service,” she said during an interview on SKY FM’s 50-50 morning talkshow with T-Max Jlateh.

She said, “These are seven persons who I expected to be wise, well trained, who are grounded, who, irrespective their various ages, they have now become elders of this Republic. So, you don’t want the Supreme Court to put you under their thumb.  You don’t want that, and I think the Supreme Court respected them by giving them that leverage to think. I don’t think you want to reduce the office of the Board of Commissioners of the National Elections Commission. So, the National Elections Commission must respect itself and rise up to what it is, as per the law and Constitution.”

In its November 18, 2020 ruling, handed down by Associate Justice Yussif D. Kaba, the Supreme Court upheld the CPP’s argument that the government of Liberia was deviating from the clear language of the Resolution of the Legislature by combining and condensing the eight propositions into three categories which was quite contrary to the provision of Article 92 of the Constitution which specifically mandates that each of the eight propositions be stated separately on the ballot to afford voters the opportunity to exercise their right of choice. The Bench agreed that the Government of Liberia proceeded wrongly and therefore, put a halt to the printing of only three propositions of the ballot paper.

However, the High Court ruled that “Article 92 of the Constitution is devoid of any timeframe for the dissemination of information and awareness on the Referendum. This being the prerogative of the respondents, this Court is not in the position to determine what constitutes sufficient public awareness and information, especially where the petitioners have admitted in their petition that indeed, some public awareness was undertaken by the 1st Respondent [National Elections Commission] on the Referendum; consequently, the first respondent is not proceeding by wrong rule; hence prohibition will not lie.”

There have been split opinions and interpretation of the court’s ruling. The Executive Branch, backed by the NEC argues that the court did not halt the referendum but called for the propositions to be broken down into eight and, not the three as first printed by the government in the national gazette.

But former Chief Justice Musu-Scott, joining several Liberians including lawmakers, lawyers and civil society groups said, the court’s ruling was a caveat to the NEC to correct all of its missteps and conduct a credible referendum.

“This means whatever the National Elections Commission printed was illegal, whatever it put out was unconstitutional,” she said.

“The second thing, it means that National Elections Commission should go and reprint. All of that is for transparency purposes. You need to take them to design the ballot… Public education for 12 months. Whatever is in there has been declared null and void by the Supreme Court. You have to come back and start all over.”

According to her, the breakdown of the positions into eight as mandated by the court was not sufficient to go on with the referendum because majority of the electorates have not been informed of the new developments, just as they were left in the dark earlier.

Speaking further, she noted that voting in favor of the propositions might be in the interest of majority of the population, but conducting the referendum hastily without educating bulk of the citizens will signal that there are some sinister motives behind the process.

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