By: Laymah Kollie
Liberia-October 10, 2023: Liberian voters in Bong County District 2 including first time voters jubilantly thronged their voting places on October 10 to exercise their constitutional franchise, with the expectation of casting their ballots early, return to their homes and await the results in accordance with the National Elections Commission advice.
The 1986 Constitution of Liberia grants eligible voters at the age of 18 and above the right to participate in the country’s legislative and presidential elections after every six years to vote for president and representative as well as every 9 years for senators.
However, their joy was short lived as some of the polling places were experiencing irregularities. Some of them were at the centers as early as 4am, only to realize that the process was no where to start soon. When the centers finally opened, the polling places became overcrowded as more people kept pouring in long queues. There were confusion and frustration all over the place as voters could not easily locate their voting rooms.
The NEC crowd controllers who should have guided the voters became overwhelmed with the crowd. The challenges led to the slow process of casting ballots.
In their frustration, the voters told our reporter that some of them spent more than 6 hours in queues in order to exercise their rights while others who couldn’t withstand the circumstances left the queues back to their activities without casting their votes.
Alexander Mulbah, a youth that rides motorbike to fend for his family, told our reporter about his challenges faced in the process. According to Mulbah, he spent seven hours in queue. From his statement, the NEC workers were not fast enough in ushering voters in and out of the polling places.
“The process was really slow. Imagine I came here 6:00 AM this morning and I am leaving at 2:00PM. Too many people in the line, the place is overcrowded,” Mulbah stated.
Also, Joshua Flomo, first time voter at the Lelekpayea Public School in Bong, said his difficulties were standing in the proper queue as polling staffs continuously made him stand in long queue wrongly.
“I came this morning, they told me this was the A-F Line. I stood in it and when I got at the door the lady said my name wasn’t in the book so I should check the next polling place. When I got to the next polling place, the staffs requested I stand at the end of the line again,” Flomo narrated.
Furthermore, Joy Dolo, a voter at the St. Martins Catholic School, told our reporter she would no longer stay in the queue to await her entry to the polling place as she had other obligations to cater to.
“I have been here since this morning and see how the line still long, I going home to find food for my children because it’s getting late,” Dolo intoned.
Moreover, Ma Esther Kollie from the Kpanyah Precinct, asserted that she had spent hours on the line and was tired of waiting to cast her vote.
“For me I tired standing in this sun oo. Since this morning I came I still here,” she lamented.
At the same time, Jessey Kollie, an observer of the opposition Unity Party(UP) at the Lelekpayea said he has noticed limited NEC staffers who were responsible to guide voters to the queues.
“Really, I see many of the voters finding it hard to find their right queues. Some of these people have really stayed longer time here,” Kollie pointed out.
However, Polling Officer informed this reporter that everything was going smooth for everyone in the queue to successfully cast their votes.
Madam Hawa Varney Polling Officer at the St. Martins Catholic School said the process was going fine and they were making sure everyone exercises their constitutional rights.
She further stated that the polling staffers had to educate voters on the methods of casting their votes.
“We are doing our best to have everyone cast their votes. Some people don’t know the process,” she said.
It can be recalled that the main opposition Unity Party (UP) in September 2023 filed a lawsuit against the National Elections Commission (NEC) for exceeding 3,000 voters at 93 precincts in nine counties. The UP argued that this could create precinct overcrowding and long queues that might discourage people from voting.
As approved in September 2014 and printed in December 2014, Chapter 4 of the Amended New Elections titled “Conduct of Elections” says the number of voters in every precinct shall be approximately equal. It continues that, ‘‘Unless the Commission in any particular case so determines, the number of registered voters in any precinct shall not exceed three thousand (3000).”
However, ruling in the case on October 5,2023, Associate Justice Yusiff Kaba, noted that the electoral body didn’t violate any law as claimed by the UP. He stressed that wordings of Chapter 4, Section 4.1(2) of the New Elections Law is unambiguous as to the intent of the Legislature.
Associate Justice said the law states that in instances of difficulties, the NEC is to effect the restricted figure of three thousand voters to a voting precinct, and to avoid voters being deprived of their rights to exercise their franchise.
The precincts in question are: The Nathaniel Varney Massaquoi High School in Jorquelleh District#2 Bong County, the Lelekpayea Public School in Jorquelleh District#2 Bong, the St. Martins Catholic School in Jorquelleh District#2 and Kpanyah Public School in Jorquelleh #3 Bong County.