Liberia: Diaspora Liberians Decry Being Denied to Vote in 2023 Elections, Cite Several Constitutional and Statutory Violations in Petition to NEC

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Cllr. Aloysius Toe, Legal Counsel of the diaspora Liberians

MONROVIA – Ahead of the 2023 general and presidential elections in Liberia, several Liberians residing in the diaspora have filed a petition to the National Elections Commission (NEC) seeking to register while overseas and vote in absentees in the upcoming elections.

Liberians are expected to go to the polls to participate in the pending elections on October 10, 2023, according to a timetable released by the NEC.

The Liberians who filed the petition include: Ysindi Kpei Martin, Elouise Page, Amanda Wright, and Dr. Francien Chenoweth Richardson of the United States.

In a petition recently filed to the commission under the signature of their Legal Counsels Attorney Aloysius Toe and Martin Kollah of the Public Interest Law Group, a copy which is in the possession of FrontPage Africa, the diaspora Liberians stated that despite residing outside of their motherland, they have strong ties with Liberia and as such, they filed the petition to exercise their constitutional right to be registered and vote in public elections to be held in Liberia.

The petitioners claimed that their action is in keeping with Section 5.91 of the Civil Procedure Law of Liberia.

Section 5.91 of the Civil Procedure Law of Liberia states that: “When there is a question of law or fact common to persons of a numerous class whose rejoinder is impracticable due to their number, their absence from the jurisdiction, or otherwise, one or more of them whose claims or defenses are representative of the claims of the defense of all and who will fairly and adequately protect the interest of all may sue or be sued on behalf of all.”

They maintained that they are above 18 years, and are legally and constitutionally entitled to be registered as voters and to vote in public elections and referenda under the constitution of Liberia, irrespective of where they reside in the world.

The petitioners emphasized that they currently reside outside of Liberia, but they were born in the post-conflict nation and are of Liberian parents who owe and maintain real properties and have family ties in Liberia.

They maintained that under Section 2.9 ( a) of the New Election Law of 1986, the NEC, among other things, has the power, duty and responsibility to administer and enforce all laws relative to the conduct of the elections, throughout Liberia, and specifically “formulate and enforce guidelines controlling the conduct of all elections for elective public offices which guidelines shall not be inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution and the Elections Law.”

The diaspora Liberians recalled that under Section 3.1 ( c ) of the NEC amended 2014 law, the commission is duly bound to register them to vote in a place where they ordinarily reside.

Section 3.1 ( c ) of the new election law states that: “a person must register to vote at a voter registration center established by the NEC for the place where he or she ordinarily resides.”

The petitioners claimed that they are eligible voters and have met the eligibility requirements of Section 3.1 of the New Elections Law of 1986, and that the NEC has the legal authority to register eligible voters consistent with Section 3.1  A (1) of the New Elections Law amended 2014 and 5.1 of the same document of 1986, both of which states that “the Commission (NEC) shall carry out voter registration for eligible citizens.”

Section 3.1 of the New Elections Law defines eligible citizens as: those: a) who have obtained the age of eighteen (18) years or older; b) who have been judicially declared to be competent c) who are not of unsound mind; d) who have not been disenfranchised to vote as a result of conviction of an infamous crime; e) who are Liberian citizens.

The petitioners emphasized that though the complaint filed does not arise from an electoral dispute emanating from the Hearing Officer of the commission to the Board of Commissioners, it is intended to allow the Board of Commissioners of the NEC to “self-correct a wrong and do what it has omitted and failed to do.”

“A hearing before the Board of Commissioners, as the forum of first instance, is therefore proper, because Liberian laws require administrative bodies to be the opportunity to self-correct wrongs and cure omissions and failures to act.”

They maintained that the petition filed is intended to seek redress and ensure that the NEC performs its statutory responsibility by protecting the rights of citizens.

They added that the move is also intended to ensure that the Commission “correct and prevent the continuous violations of Petitioners constitutional statutory and God-given human rights to suffrage, and to restore, respect, and enforce Petitioners’ right to be registered and to vote outside the bailiwick of the Republic of Liberia, consistent with the laws of Liberia.”

The petitioners justified that their rights to be registered to in places where they reside, and to democratically vote in person or by absentee ballot are guaranteed by Article 80 ( c ), 1 Section 3.1 ( c )  of the 1986 constitution and the new election laws amended in 2014, and Article 25 (a and b) of the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR); and that these rights are inviolable constitutional assets, which cannot and must not be denied.

Article 80 ( c ) of the 1986 Liberian constitution states that: “ Every Liberian citizen shall have the right to be registered in a constituency, and to vote in public elections only in the constituency where registered, either in person or absentee ballot; provided that such citizen shall have the right to change his voting constituency as may be prescribed by the Legislature.”

Section 3.1 (c ) of the amended New Elections Law of Liberia states that: “a person must register to vote at a voter registration center established by the NEC for the place where he or she ordinarily resides.”

The petitioners justified that by these legal protections and guarantees, they are entitled to be registered in places where they ordinarily reside, and are further entitled to be allowed to vote either in person or by absentee ballot.

“Petitioners say and contend that when the framers of the constitution and statuses authorized that Liberian citizens should be registered in places where they ordinarily reside, and be allowed to vote  either in person or by absentee ballot, the framers of the constitution and statuses contemplated and intended that Liberians of voting age would be out of Liberia, and that any group of Liberians who would be outside the country for various reasons and professional engagements, during voters registration and voting period, should and must be allowed to register and voter wherever they may be.”

They maintained that despite the clear and resounding mandate of the constitution and statuses of the country, the NEC has “omitted, failed, neglected and refused to establish and provide mechanisms and procedures” that would enable them to be registered and vote while they are outside Liberia, and vote by absentee ballot.

The petitioners claimed that since 1986 when the constitution came into force, up to the and including the senatorial by-elections of 2020, the NEC has allegedly omitted, neglected, refused, failed and ignored to register  and allow to vote in absentee diaspora Liberians in places where they are ordinarily residing.

The diaspora Liberians added that the commission is poise to also repeat the same constitutional and statutory violations by denying them the right to partake in the 2023 elections.

According to them, the move is in violation of their constitutional rights.

“Petitioners say and aver that in callous disregard to the constitution and statutory rights of petitioners, respondents NEC have repeatedly, and with willful intent, denied petitioners the right to be registered in places where petitioners reside, and vote by absentee ballot.”

The diaspora Liberians disclosed that as proof of the NEC willful intent to deprive them from exercising their constitutionally guaranteed democratic rights, the commission recently released a document captioned “Key electoral dates-2023 presidential and legislative elections” in which it announced plans to conduct voters’ registration beginning December 15, 2022 and ending on March 17, 2023.

They emphasized that the NEC failed to mention or provide opportunities for eligible Liberian voters residing abroad to participate in the process and subsequently cast their ballots in absentee on election date.

According to them, the commission also willfully intent to exclude them from the political and electoral process of Liberia as evidenced by the publication of a timeline to conduct biometric voter registration, which among other things provided the dates and places in which voter registration for all eligible voters for the 2023 elections would be conducted, but failed to include the places and dates on which voters registration for Liberians would be conducted overseas consistent with the constitution and statutory laws of Liberia.

They maintained that their exclusion from the voters’ registration timetable by the commission is a clear indication of their indifference to, and willful violation of their rights, and the move further reflects the NEC inclination and desire to violate their rights to be registered and vote in places where they reside, in the 2023 elections as guaranteed under the constitution.

They added that the willful action of the NEC is “wrong, illegal, unlawful and unconstitutional, and stand in need of immediate correction to avoid further injury and deprivation of right to Petitioners.”

The diaspora Liberians added that the action or inaction of the commission has caused them “great and irreparable” harm and denial to of their democratic right to elect the leaders of their country, because they have not been allowed and will most certainly not be allowed to be registered and to vote, because of their being out of Liberia, something which is in sharp contravention of the clear mandate of the constitution and statutory laws of Liberia.

They noted that the failure and refusal of the NEC to register and allow them to vote abroad implies that they have to travel to Liberia to be registered in order to be allowed to vote.

The diaspora Liberians, however, rejected and objected to any implied or expressed direct or indirect requirement that will subject them to travel to Liberia in order to be registered and vote in person, as an unconstitutional violation of their statutory and constitutional rights to be “registered in places where they ordinarily reside”, and be allowed to “vote in person or by absentee ballot.”

They pointed out that the act to permit citizens who live and reside abroad to register and vote in home-country elections while abroad, is a democratic best practiced currently carried out by 132 countries, including Britain, Germany, Spain, Denmark, Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, United States, Canada, as well as Angola, South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique, Senegal, Malawi, Namibia, among others.

They maintained that the right of citizens abroad to vote is based on the universality of the right to vote, that that requiring eligible voters abroad to register and vote at a country’s embassy or consular office is a universally acceptable best practice by many countries, which the NEC can also emulate.

The diaspora Liberians emphasized that requiring or expecting them to travel to Liberia before registering to vote has and will cause “unbearable financial hardship and economic burden” to them and their respective families, and  involuntarily separate them from their families.

They added that the move will also coercively cause them to lose their various jobs and unlawfully interfere with their employment contracts outside of Liberia; and violates the constitution and electoral laws of the country.

They pointed out that in order to travel to Liberia to be registered to vote, each of them will be burdened to pay over US$2000 for round trip plane ticket, plus additional costs of hotel, feeding and transportation just to come home to register-amounting to total of approximately US$4000for voting on elections day.

They noted that it is unconscionable to them and was certainly not contemplated and intended by the framers of the statutes and constitution of Liberia that the NEC would directly or indirectly require or expect Liberian citizens living abroad to be overburdened with and pay a cost of nearly US$8,000 for travel and stay in Liberia for voting in the elections.

“Your humble Petitioners request your Honors to take judicial notice of the historical fact that about 250,000 Liberians live and reside in the United States alone, of which 200,000 of them are eligible to vote. This does not include Liberians living in Europe, Canada, South America, Asia, Austria and other parts of Africa. Assuming the 200,000 eligible voters from the United States alone, travel to Liberia to be registered in person to vote, and have to travel to Liberia again to vote in person on elections day, at a combined cost of US$8,000, that would cost them a total financial burden of US$16,000, 000.”

They maintained that requiring eligible voters residing in the US to spend such amount of money will prevent many of them from voting because of the financial cost, thus violating their constitutional suffrage or right to vote.

The diaspora Liberians noted that if the NEC performs its statutory or constitutional duty to register them in places where they are ordinarily residing and allow them to vote by absentee ballot, they and other similarly situated Liberians would invest the US$16 million to improve the lives of their family members living in Liberia, invest in business opportunities to grow the Liberian economy and contribute greatly to the economic development of Liberia.

They argued that the framers of the constitution wanted to ensure that Liberians students studying abroad do not have to disrupt their study to rush home to register to vote; but rather they should be given the opportunity to register and vote outside of Liberia, while studying abroad.

They added that the move was also intended to ensure that Liberian doctors and health care workers, as well as professional skilled and unskilled workers, soldiers and police officers, diplomats and consular staff do not abandon their assigned tasks and responsibilities abroad just to come home to register and vote during electioneering period.

According to them, the underlying public policy rationale for allowing Liberians outside the country to register and vote was intended to ensure that “every Liberian citizen not less than 18 years old, shall have the right to be registered as a voter and to vote in public elections and referenda under this constitution”, regardless of where they reside, in compliance with Article 77 ( b ) of the 1986 constitution.

They pointed out that the rights to be registered to vote at a voter registration center and the right to vote in person or by absentee ballot as enshrined in the 2014 new election laws and the constitution, are indispensable foundation for ensuring democratic governance and citizens’ participation.

“Petitioners say and submit that despite the mandate of the laws of Liberia, Respondent NEC has deprived and continues to deprive them of their constitutional rights to institute, reform and alter their government through electoral means as provided for under Article 1 of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia.”

 They claimed that as a direct and proximate cause of the NEC ongoing unconstitutional conduct, they are unable to institute, reform or alter the form of their government when their happiness and safety so required, and they are further unable to ensure democratic government which respond to the wishes of the governed.

They further claimed that they have been “unlawfully prevented to cause their public servants to leave office and fill vacancies by regular elections and appointments, in complete violation of Article 1 of the 1986 constitution.”

They recalled that in keeping with its obligation to respect the voting rights of its citizens, Liberia, on April 18, 1967 signed the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and on September 22, 2014, ratified the document, thus making it domestic law for which those residing in the diaspora are also entitled to.

The diaspora Liberians emphasized that the NEC is “under constitutional mandate to establish modalities and provide the procedures to ensure their registration outside of Liberia, and voting on elections day, by absentee ballots.”

“In particular, Petitioner Ysindi Kpei Martin requests respondent NEC to establish mechanisms and procedures to enable her to be registered in district # 7 in Nimba County, while she is absent from Liberia; and to further enable her to vote in district # 7 Nimba County, by absentee ballot; Petitioner Eloiuse Page requests Respondent NEC to establish mechanisms and procedures to enable her to be registered and vote in district # 2 Grand Bassa County by absentee ballot, Petitioner Dr. Francien Chenoweth Richardson requests Respondent NEC to establish mechanisms and procedures to enable her to be registered in district # 17 in Montserrado County, while she is absent from Liberia, and to further enable her to vote by absentee ballot; Petitioner Amanda Wright requests respondent NEC to establish mechanisms and procedures to enable her to be registered in district # 9, Montserrado County while she is absent from Liberia, and to further enable her to vote by absentee ballot.”

Meanwhile, the National Elections Commission, through its Hearing Officer, is expected to hear the complaint filed by the diaspora Liberians very shortly.

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