The Institute of Democratic Governance (IDEG) is calling for reforms in the way election results are tabulated in many African countries.
According to the institute, there have been some improvements in the way elections are organised, particularly casting of votes, but when it comes to tabulation, there is still more room for improvement.
It said many election disputes on the continent in recent times bothered on tabulation and not necessarily on the casting of votes.
The Executive Director of IDEG, Dr Emmanuel Akwetey, made the call when he shared his perspectives on regional integration with a group of journalists from West Africa, as part of a training programme organised by the Deutsche Welle Akademie in Accra.
Dr Akwetey cited the Nigerian and Kenyan elections of 2007 and said there were serious problems with the tabulation of results.
The Nigerian general elections of 2007 which the late President Umaru Yar'Adua won was described as highly controversial by Election observers from the European Union. The observers said it was "the worst they had ever seen anywhere in the world", with "rampant vote rigging, violence, theft of ballot boxes and intimidation”.
In Kenya, the post-election 2007 demonstration and violence which led to a crisis stemmed from a mixture of motives which included widespread perception that the count of the presidential election was modified in favour of President Mwai Kibaki.
In the view of Dr Akwetey, the Nigeria elections of 2007 was bad but the 2011 one was better organised, transparent and credible.
There were issues with how tabulation was done in Ghana as well in the 2012 elections hence the election petition which was pending at the Supreme Court, he said.
“Going forward, one of the areas African elections would have to focus on is in the tabulation. A lot of attention would be needed there. It should engage the next phase of the struggle of reform on the continent”.
“You see voting takes place at the polling stations, the total of polling stations define constituencies, so looking at what is happening in one polling station, does not tell you the full story,” he added.
“Results from polling stations ought to be sent to a centre where it is added up finally and somebody declared a winner,” he continued.
“I think that process has a lot of flaws and so it marred the results (Nigeria 2007) because far away in the states, a lot of things were alleged to have happened”.
Dr Akwetey, however, maintained that in general, the conduct of the elections —people queuing, voting, the peace around it, the determination and making sure that the right thing was done for everybody-happens except that “after we have counted the votes and ballot papers are being moved to tabulation centres for additions, that is where things happen”.
He said his observation in the recent Kenyan elections showed that Kenyans were very exceptional, better than Ghanaian voters.
“Look, Ghanaian voters are very impatient when you delay a little… the Kenyans deal with themselves with so much respect and gentility. When they had done such a good job, when it got to tabulation, all their equipment collapsed”.
He said between the returning officer and what was happening in constituencies, there was a whole space, so that integrity of the returning officer was not enough to guarantee that the right thing would be done at every stage to declaring final results.
And so a lot of attention would be needed there, he stated.
Touching on the role of civil society and observer groups, Dr Akwetey said it had been noted that during elections, many observers concentrated more on voting during the day and that at night when the results were being tabulated many of them got exhausted and were unable to follow proceedings properly.
“Going forward, we are proposing to divide observer groups into two, so that one can observe during the day while voting is underway and the other can concentrate on the tabulation,” he said.
On how different African countries have been peer reviewing their elections, he said Ghana had been organising its elections in a way that had generally been improving and setting standards on the continent.
He said the standards were high and also as part of the integration, election observation had also provided a way of doing peer review and standardising democratic regimes.
“After the Nigerian elections, one of the important things that was set in Nigeria by civil society was to monitor voting and tabulation, thereby setting up the civil society election situation room where monitoring is co-ordinated.
He said because of what happened in the Nigerian elections and the improvements later on, credibility was restored and it influenced what happened in Monrovia.