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No room for complacency: teach people how to vote!

BY: Ajoa Yeboah-Afari

As Ghana enters the final phase of Election 2020, one nagging issue which should be engaging the serious attention of all the major players is the high incidence of rejected ballots recorded with each general election.

However, I believe that given the digital innovativeness the Electoral Commission of Ghana demonstrated with the recent Voter Registration exercise, similarly it could use that expertise to solve the problem, or at least reduce it significantly.

One may ask, what is a rejected ballot? A definition in the CitiNews, quoted by the Daily Dispatch says: “In general terms, a rejected ballot refers to a ballot paper that cannot be counted because the ballot paper either does not have an official mark; the voter has cast more votes than they are entitled to; the voter has made writing or marks by which they can be identified; the voter has left the ballot paper blank or has marked or thumb-printed it in such a way that it is not clear for whom they intended to vote.”

A Graphic Online analysis explains it vividly: “Some 149,813 rejected ballots were recorded in 1992; there were 111,108 in 1996 and 119,372 in 2000, before the figure surged to 188,123 in 2004. In the 2008 general election in particular, rejected ballots shot up to 205,843, with the figure going up again to 243,280 in 2012 before reducing marginally to 167,349 in 2016.”

Some people describe the ballooning cases of invalid ballots as the ‘Third Force’ in Ghana’s elections, because those rejects could have made a difference in deciding who won or who lost.

Clearly, a way has to be found to consign this particular Third Force to the realm of the past tense. But what is the remedy?
The Deputy Chairperson of the EC, Dr Bossman Asare was quoted by CitiNews as saying that ‘the Commission will intensify its public education, especially on how to properly vote, as a way of reducing the number of rejected ballots.”

And I agree with the view of Deputy Local Government and Rural Development Minister Osei Bonsu Amoah, reported by the Dispatch: “The most critical thing is education on how to vote. We take these things for grantee but people do not know how to vote.”

To me Mr Amoah has summed up the problem precisely. And it should be a matter of national concern that despite all Ghana’s advances, so many people simply don’t know how to vote.

Obviously, all these years, there has been some education on how to vote. What seems to have been missing is a robust and well planned, targeted ‘HOW TO CAST YOUR VOTE’ programme.

But what effective method should be used to ensure that come December 7, Election 2020, will record an impressive, or even historic, low number of rejected ballots?

Also, maybe the illiteracy factor, too, has to be considered. Are all the prospective voters able to understand the instructions, mostly in English, about what they are required to do behind the voting screen?

Anyway, I believe that a novel approach is required and I’m sure that the EC is more than capable of devising an appropriate, focused publicity material.

I suggest that the EC should come up with a short ‘how to vote’ video which should be widely circulated so that non-governmental organizations, institutions and others can make use of it to join the ‘how to vote’ crusade.

My thinking is that the current EC’s general publicity should have another component, carved out of its ‘Voting Steps’ information. That prong should be specifically on the correct voting method: how to thumbprint and how to fold the ballot paper properly.

The current messages are comprehensive, but a shorter version is needed focusing on just the voting procedure.

For example, although the educational messages tell the prospective voter to “fold the ballot paper”, there is nothing about which way the paper should be folded – should it be vertical or horizontal? This may appear a minor issue, but obviously, every part of the process is a factor for consideration because it’s a challenge for some voters and because of the huge rejects.

If the idea is acceptable, the short video should be circulated as widely as possible via social media as well as through mobile phones, with the support of the telecommunication companies.

Furthermore, there should be a print media version which can be displayed prominently, in the same way that some of the newspapers have been carrying COVID-19 messages – for example the dos and don’ts of mask-wearing.

A question to the political parties and the aspirants: of what use is all the effort and expense being put in to woo prospective voters if the voter ends up with a rejected ballot even where they had intended to vote for you?

The limited time between now and December 7, doesn’t leave much room for manoeuvre, so it seems to me that every political party and every candidate in the general election should begin immediately a HOW TO VOTE CRASH PROGRAMME for their own benefit, as well as for the benefit of their constituents.

And better still if they have an EC targeted video on voting steps to support their offensive.
Election 2020 should see the end of rejected ballots as the embarrassing ‘Third Force’ in Ghana’s elections.

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