Limited voter registration: Whose call to decide where to locate registration centres?
Deputy Commissioner of the Commission on Human Rights and Administration Justice (CHRAJ), Richard A. Quayson writes on the ongoing limited voter registration exercise and whose call it is to decide where to locate registration centres.
Articles 45 and 46 of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana provide as follows:
45. The Electoral Commission shall have the following functions—
(a) to compile the register of voters and revise it at such periods as may be determined by law;
(b) to demarcate the electoral boundaries for both national and local government elections;
(c) to conduct and supervise all public elections and referenda;
(d) to educate the people on the electoral process and its purpose;
(e) to undertake programmes for the expansion of the registration of voters; and
(f) to perform such other functions as may be prescribed by law.
46. Except as provided in this Constitution or in any other law not inconsistent with this Constitution, in the performance of its functions, the Electoral Commission shall not be subject to the direction or control of any person or authority.
In 2020, the Electoral Commission (EC) compiled a voter’s register under the most unique conditions (COVID-19 Pandemic) and delivered successful general elections in Ghana.
Before the said registration exercise, some of the think tanks and intellectuals of Ghana predicted disaster, if the registration exercise was carried out.
The EC indicated that the 2020 registration would serve as the primary Voter Register, to be updated from time to time, a departure from previous arrangements where a new register was compiled for every general elections at great cost to the nation.
Accordingly, the EC has initiated a continuous limited voter registration exercise to update the existing voter register to register persons who have turned 18 years and above since the last elections, and persons who are eligible but did not register during the last registration exercise.
The EC initially estimated that about 1.35 million eligible voters may be involved in the limited registration exercise, although the figure has since been scaled downward by about 40 per cent.
Because it is a continuous limited voter registration exercise, the registration is to be done at the district offices of the EC.
The current registration exercise is for three weeks, to be continued in 2024 for another seven months.
Unfortunately, the registration exercise has attracted some harsh criticisms, if not condemnation, from some intellectuals, think tanks and others.
They insist that the EC must carry out the limited voter registration exercise on similar scale as in 2020, when their target was to compile a completely new voter register and register about 18 million eligible voters.
They argue that by requiring prospective registrants to go to the district offices of the EC to register that approach would make them incur cost thereby depriving eligible voters from registering.
Some have accused the EC of taking an intractable position, and of not listening to the people of Ghana. But are the think tanks and intellectuals also listening to the explanation provided by the EC?
In sum, we are faced with different viewpoints and approaches to carrying out the registration exercise. The obvious question that arises is; whose is it to make the call?
The government and people in their collective wisdom have given the specific mandate for conducting elections and compiling the voters register to the EC under Article 45 of the 1992 Constitution.
They have also, in their collective wisdom, determined that in the performance of [those] functions, the EC shall not be subject to the direction or control of any person or authority.
The EC has not indicated that it is unable to carry out its mandate. Indeed, it is carrying out the mandate with outstanding results.
However, certain individuals and think tanks who have not been given any mandate by the government and people of Ghana have assumed the mandate to determine how the EC must carry out those functions, and when the EC insists on carrying out its constitutional mandate the way it considers appropriate in accordance with the law, it is held in contempt.
In any case, a listening institution need not be like the proverbial reed that is blown in the direction of every wind of ideas from every think tank or individual.
Can we imagine the unstructured chaos that would ensue? That is why the government and people of Ghana have already determined that the EC, while it may listen to the views of the people, shall nonetheless perform its functions the way it considers appropriate in accordance with law.
When Article 46 of the Constitution provides that the EC shall not be subject to the direction or control of any person or authority, that, of course, includes think tanks, intellectuals, CSOs, i.e., any person.
I have great respect for the intellectuals and the think tanks of our society. They have an important role to play, including critiquing and helping to find credible solutions to the problems of society.
My problem, however, is with how we allow our intellectual differences to degenerate into vicious attacks, such that we start denigrating our opponents simply because of our different viewpoints.
Calumniation has never been a mark of intellectual excellence, and insults have never enriched any intellectual discourse.
The irrepressible Albert Einstein once said: “We have been endowed with just enough intelligence to be able to see clearly just how utterly inadequate that intelligence is when confronted with what exists. If this humility could be imparted to everybody, the world of human endeavours would become more appealing.”
The real power of knowledge lies in its humility. Merely disagreeing with or not preferring the approach of another person does not mean that person is wrong. Humility helps us to acknowledge the validity of an approach that is different from ours and helps us to learn to agree to disagree agreeably.
Interestingly, the government and people knew that such situations would arise, so they predetermined how they should be resolved when they arise.
Again, the government and people of Ghana knew that the EC would never be constituted of superior human beings who would never make mistakes, yet in their collective wisdom they considered the arrangement in Article 46 the right arrangement.
So, the issue is not who has the best ideas or approach, as that is relative. The issue is who has been given the mandate to make the call.
The EC has the mandate of the government and people to compile the register of voters and revise it at such periods as may be determined by law, so let us respect the law and support the EC to carry out its mandate, even if we disagree with its approach. The call is EC’s to make.