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EISA Reports Runoff Inconsistencies, Irregularities, But…

 The EISA International Elections Observation Mission to Liberia has released its post-election report, raising issues of several irregularities during both the October 10 and November 14 elections.

The Mission noted substantial gains by the NEC and commended the Liberia election management body for its proactiveness in addressing issues from the first round, including steps to address invalid votes, updating the tabulation manual, and refresher training to election officials, as well as deployment of materials ahead in advance of the run-off.

The Mission observed improved format of the ballot paper, clarifying voting choices, providing enough marking space for indicating a preferred choice.

“The use of the FRR hard copies by party agents to verify voters in some areas, demonstrated improved transparency of the voting process,” the EISA Mission said.

The EISA Mission applauded the NEC for its improved coverage during both rounds of the election by the Joint Security, given that the provision of security was the sole responsibility of internal security agencies.

The Mission thanked the National Elections Commission and the Liberian people for the peaceful conduct of the October 10 and November 14 elections.

The EISA IEOM reported a generally calm and peaceful environment with no election- related incidents.

“The opening procedures were largely observed at polling precincts observed, highlighting timely openings, the full complement of staff, and ease of access for authorized persons,” the release said.

“The secrecy of the vote was maintained through well-arranged polling booths. Polling staff, security agents, and election monitors, demonstrated professionalism and knowledge of their roles, contributing to a smoothly conducted election day,” the EISA Mission noted.

The Mission, however, noted inconsistencies in the application of ink to indicate that a voter had cast their ballot.

According to NEC regulations, the voter’s index finger should be marked after casting the ballot, but observations revealed that, in 61.6 percent of the polling places, voters were inked before casting the ballot.

In 38.4 percent of the observed polling places, voters were inked after casting the ballot. This inconsistency raised concerns about adherence to prescribed procedures.

EISA observed that an incident was reported at Don Bosco Youth Center in Montserrado, where voting was briefly halted because a voter refused to be inked after casting her ballot.

Tensions arose due to the positioning of party agents close to Voter Identification Officers (VIOs). Some agents duplicated VIO efforts, directly collecting voters’ cards for parallel checks. In another incident, a formal complaint was filed in Grand Gedeh District 1, demanding VIOs to read names and numbers aloud.

The EISA observers in Nimba, Margibi, Grand Gedeh, and River Gee, reported instances of voter trucking, which may have impacted the outcome of the election.

“Transported voters were heard chanting or shouting the candidate number (either 1 or 2) of their preferred candidate to demonstrate their support.

In closing, EISA reported that the process was a peaceful and orderly one, with a 92.9 percent incidence-free rate. It said the counting processes were rated as transparent, with procedures adhered to in the presence of party agents and observers. However, approximately 25 percent of the visited polling places had inadequate lighting.

In accordance with article 2(3) of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (ACDEG), the October 10, 2023 elections presented an opportunity for the second peaceful legitimization of representative government and democratic transition of power. On October 24, 2023, the NEC successfully tallied and announced 100 percent of the total votes cast, stating that 5.89 percent were invalid. The incumbent, President George Weah of Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), received 804,087 votes, constituting 43.83 percent, while the opposition Standard Bearer, Joseph Boakai of Unity Party (UP), received 796,961 votes, constituting 43.44 percent. Due to the absence of an absolute majority among the presidential candidates in the presidential poll, as mandated by election legislation, a run-off was scheduled for November 14.

The NEC has jurisdiction to adjudicate electoral complaints and disputes in both the first and second instances, with the option for further appeal to the Supreme Court.

EISA-IEOM noted that after the October 10 elections, the NEC’s county magistrates and hearing officers received a total of 50 complaints. Of the 50 official complaints received by NEC, 20 were dismissed on legal technicalities such as lack of legal standing. While it is undisputed that legal matters may be adjudicated through technical grounds as provided for in Section 16.1 of the New Elections Law or based on merit, the overwhelming dismissal of electoral matters on technical grounds is concerning.

These technicalities have added complexity to the dispute resolution process, and have the propensity to deny parties the right to be heard before condemnation, which is a fundamental human right as provided by the Constitution of Liberia. The Mission observed that inconsistent legal frameworks are being used to resolve election disputes. An example of this is the NEC vs Vision for Liberia Transformation Party (VOLT) case, where the Board of Commissioners upheld a ruling made by the hearing officer of NEC. VOLT’s case was dismissed due to lack of legal capacity to sue, as they failed to attach an authorization from the Board of the Party instructing the party’s leadership to file the suit. The NEC found that since VOLT is a corporate institution by law, their failure to present a corporate instruction is enough reason for dismissing the matter due to lack of capacity to sue.

EISA-IEOM observed that the inconsistent timetable for filing election disputes created more complications with the elections dispute resolution process.

On October 10, 2023, election in Liberia underwent comprehensive scrutiny by both international and domestic observers and other electoral stakeholders. The NEC’s proactive initiatives in fostering public trust through transparency during result tabulation were widely commended. For example, the results were announced progressively in public NEC press conferences. At the same time, these results were consistently refreshed on the NEC’s website, providing a breakdown by county and polling place. This strategy proved crucial, allowing political parties and observers to cross-verify copies of the records of the count from both the polling places and the tabulation centers. This is in line with the principle of access to information during elections.

Despite the overall positive assessment, some challenges surfaced during and after the first round. There were premature declarations of victory by certain political parties before the completion of the results tally process.

This prompted a response from national and international observer groups and the diplomatic community, urging political parties to adhere to the official announcement by the NEC. Additionally, the considerable percentage of invalid votes, accounting for 5.89 percent, although within Liberia’s historical performance and global averages, underscores the necessity for enhanced civic and voter education efforts. The slow announcing of results, although enacted within the prescribed 15-day period, coupled with security vulnerabilities and reported incidents of interference with ballot boxes in specific areas, particularly in Nimba and Maryland, were identified as areas of concern.

During the counting and results tabulation, the performance of some NEC temporary staff was found to be inadequate. Corrections had to be made to the counting sheets at the tallying center, and there were instances of unstamped records of the count forms, leading to challenges regarding the validity of the results tally sheets. Observers reported cases where temporary staff falsified the results and these instances were exposed by party agents and NEC officials. Notably, the team in Montserrado observed the arrests of Presiding Officers in both Upper and Lower Montserrado for electoral malpractices. Discrepancies and errors within the tally process were effectively managed through verification, correction, and recounting. Particularly, disputes linked to electoral fraud were treated as criminal cases by the NEC, affirming a commitment to maintaining the integrity of the electoral process.

Election Reruns:

The illegal snatching of ballot boxes from two polling places in Nimba prompted a re-run election on October 20, 2023, in the Beo Lontuo Community, District 4, specifically at polling precinct number 33258, polling places 1 and 2. The EISA IEOM noted that the polls proceeded smoothly without disturbances. The Mission observed that the tallying of results from the two polling places at the NEC Magistrate in Sanniquellie on October 21, 2023, was relatively quick, as these were the only outstanding results.

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