Constitutional Instrument on voter registration: Leaving some behind?
The Electoral Commission (EC) of Ghana has once again decided to add another layer to the robustness of Ghana’s electoral system.
This time, the commission intends to get the legal backing, under the proposed Constitutional Instrument (CI) to, among other things, use the Ghana Card as the sole document for all future registration of voters.
The EC holds the view that the National Identification Authority (NIA)-produced Ghana Card has superior features than any other document including the Ghana Passport and the EC’s own produced voters identification (ID) card.
In the words of the EC Chairperson, Jean Mensa, the proposed CI would safeguard the sanctity of the electoral process devoid of foreign interference because one person unqualified on our roll is one too many. The use of the Ghana Card as the sole document for voter registration ‘implies that the guarantor system which hitherto allowed a registered voter to vouch for the citizenship and age of prospective applicants will no longer be used for the registration process’ in view of its inherent challenges.
Apart from being covered under the legal framework of our electoral politics, the Ghana Card may be a secure and reliable form of identification which can help to reduce fraudulent activities such as double voting.
As has been the case, the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) has taken to the defence of the EC’s proposed CI while the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) has gone full length to oppose it. That ruling parties have sided with the EC while opposition parties have opposed the EC’s reforms over the years, speak volumes.
The Centre for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana) and the former Chairman of the EC, Dr Kwadwo Afari Djan, are among those who have kicked against the proposed CI by the EC. The central argument of the opponents has included the possibility of disenfranchising many in view of the practical difficulty in securing the Ghana Card. The question of identity has led to bloody conflicts in Africa, hence anything linked to identity politics must be handled with caution.
One major danger associated with using only the Ghana Card for voter registration is that it can be used to disenfranchise certain groups of people. For example, if citizens do not have access to financial resources or the correct documents, they may not be able to acquire a Ghana Card, and thus be unable to vote in elections. If one unqualified person on the register is one too many as indicated by the EC chairperson, does the same logic not apply to one qualified person unable to get onto the register due to his/her inability to procure the Ghana Card?
Also, the assertion that the NIA offices are in the districts and regional capitals, hence accessible gives the impression that proponents of the new CI are not in touch with the reality in rural Ghana. Do we genuinely think that some poor and aged people in rural areas will travel several kilometres by walking or using bicycles to the district capitals of Ghana, particularly, when it is the case that they will not get the card the same day, at the expense of their health, money and time?
Additionally, while it is true that many unqualified people can get unto the voter roll through the guarantor system, it is equally true that the Ghana Card may not accurately reflect the true identity of a person, hence there is a risk that ineligible persons could also get onto the voters register via the Ghana Card.
Another challenge of using the Ghana Card as the sole document for voter registration is that it can be costly for the government to produce and distribute cards to all eligible citizens, as well as to maintain an up-to-date database of voters. This is a function of the health of the economy which we cannot guarantee tomorrow. Besides, there is a risk that the biometric data stored on the card could be stolen or misused, which could have serious implications for Ghana's national security and privacy.
Added to the above is a chance that the system could be manipulated by those in power, leading to unfair or unjust outcomes. The consolidation of gains in our elections must not be jeopardised because the consequences may be too costly for us. The kind of politics we practise in Ghana makes it simply too risky to allow the executive arm control over any of the processes of getting people onto the voters’ register. The NIA is under the control of the executive.
The main danger of leaving voter registration in the hands of the executive arm of government is that it could be prone to abuse and misuse, as it could be done in a way that would benefit certain political parties or individuals. Additionally, there is a risk of manipulation and fraud, as the executive arm of government could unfairly influence the outcomes of elections by deliberately excluding certain groups or individuals from the voting process. Finally, there is also a risk that the process could become corrupt or inefficient, leading to a loss of confidence in the electoral system.
Other documents should be accepted for voter registration in order to ensure that all eligible citizens are given the opportunity to exercise their right to vote. What matters is vigilance.
Additionally, having a variety of documents available allows for greater accuracy in verifying the identity of a person and reduces the risk of fraud and other errors.
The writer is Lecturer at the Department of Political Science,
University of Education, Winneba
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