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Court throws out injunction against limited voter registration

BY: Dominic Moses Awiah & Emmanuel Ebo Hawkson
EC Chairperson, Mrs Jean Mensa
EC Chairperson, Mrs Jean Mensa

The Electoral Commission (EC) is now free to go ahead with its limited voter registration exercise following the Supreme Court's unanimous decision to throw out an interlocutory application meant to halt the exercise.

The applicant, Umar Ayuba, wanted the apex court to stop the registration exercise, pending the final determination of his suit challenging the constitutionality of the exercise.

But, in the ruling on Tuesday, a seven-member panel of the court threw out the interlocutory application but said it would give its reasons in the substantive case.

Consequently, the EC is expected to announce a new date today after it put on hold its earlier scheduled date.

The seven-member panel was presided over by Mr Justice Julius Ansah, with Justices Jones Dotse, Sule Gbadegbe, Samuel Marful-Sau, Agnes A. Dordzie, Nene Amegatcher and Prof. Emmanuel Nii Ashie Kotey as members.

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Applicant’s argument

Making a case for the injunction, counsel for the applicant, Dr Dominic Ayine, a former Deputy Attorney-General (A-G), urged the court to grant the application on the basis that the approach being adopted by the EC in the limited voter registration exercise amounted to voter suppression.

He argued that the EC must be stopped from going ahead with the exercise because its decision to conduct the exercise in its district offices would deprive many people from participating in the exercise and ultimately deny them the right to vote.

“In the circumstances, we pray the court to grant the application to prevent the breach of the voting rights of citizens of this country.”

“Incompetent application”

In his response, a Deputy A-G, Mr Godfred Yeboah Dame, described the application as incompetent in both procedure and substance.

It was his contention that the applicant had failed to establish any legal right, which in effect meant that he had not properly invoked the jurisdiction of the court.

“The applicant alleges voter suppression but has not demonstrated in his application any instance which will result in voter suppression if the EC undertakes the limited registration exercise,” the Deputy A-G argued.

Substantive suit

Ayuba dragged the A-G and the EC to the apex court with a case that the EC’s decision to do online registration in its district offices during the limited registration exercise was discriminatory to first-time voters and rural folks.

The plaintiff, who is invoking the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, is seeking a declaration that upon a true and proper interpretation of articles 45 (a), 45(e) and 42 of the 1992 Constitution, the decision of the EC to undertake the 2019 limited voter registration online at the district offices of the EC, instead of undertaking same on the basis of electoral areas, will result in voter suppression, as was evident from the same exercise carried out in 2018, particularly in rural constituencies of the country, and is thus unconstitutional, as it violates the rights of first-time voters to register and vote.

Another declaration is that upon a true and proper interpretation of Article 45(a) and (e) of the Constitution, the decision of the EC to undertake the 2019 limited voter registration online at its district offices, instead of undertaking same on the basis of electoral areas, is inconsistent with and in contravention of the mandate of the EC, as contained in Article 45 (a) and (e) of the 1992 Constitution and Regulation 2 Sub-regulation (2)(a) and (b) of the Public Elections (Registration of Voters) Regulations, 2016 (CI 91).

The plaintiff wants the court to declare that upon a true and proper interpretation of articles 42, 45(a), 45 (e) and 17 of the 1992 Constitution, the decision of the EC to undertake the 2019 limited voter registration online at its district offices, instead of places designated by law, is unwarranted and a disproportionate burden on first-time voters, especially in rural constituencies such as Daboya-Mankarigu.

“The decision is thus discriminatory and a violation of the rights of first-time rural voters to be granted equal opportunity to register to vote under articles 42 and 17 of the Constitution,” the plaintiff avers.

He further wants the apex court to hold that the EC’s decision is unreasonable and an arbitrary exercise of its discretionary power in relation to voter registration.

He also wants the court to order the EC to undertake the 2019 limited voter registration exercise in the manner prescribed by law in order to avoid altogether or minimise the suppression of votes, particularly in the rural constituencies of the country.

Ayuba is also praying the court to order the EC and its agents to desist from destroying any and all documents and records relating to the 2018 limited voter registration exercise the EC conducted until the final determination of the suit.