The proposed Public Elections (Registration of Voters) Regulations 2021 Constitutional Instrument by the Electoral Commission of Ghana (EC) is generating a heated debate.
This debate is fueled by a key provision that, for purposes of voter registration, the National Identification Card be the sole means for demonstrating one’s eligibility.
Before I proceed on the issue of the proposed CI, I would like to state for the sake of clarity that I am a strong proponent of the government’s efforts to build a national identification system that is linked andinterconnected with all the systems that citizens interact with daily.
Even though the designing and implementing the process of such a comprehensive system has been fraught with complications, I still believe it is a noble idea, whose benefits, in the long run, will outweigh any costs and challenges currently being faced.
Beyond my support, however, are some important issues for reflection.
Rights and Administrative Procedures
As articulated by Dr. Serebour Quaicoe, Director of the Electoral Services Department, during television and radio interviews, the policy goal is simple – to further ensure the integrity of the voters’ register.
The goal is noble, and I accept the constitutional powers granted to the Commission as the institution responsible for compiling the voters’ register.
However, because voting is a fundamental right, it behoves the Commission to ensure that there are no barriers in whatever system it puts in place to register voters to exercise this right.
Additionally, given that the march towards a fully functional integrated national identification system is not complete, I argue that an exceptions clause be added where, under reasonable circumstances, other methods of demonstrating one’s citizenship are accepted for voter registration purposes.
I know that the Commission contends that there is enough time between now and 2024 for every citizen to acquire their Ghana card.
However, the need for exceptions under reasonable circumstances is permissible in public administration.
This is because there are sometimes unintended consequences or unanticipated circumstances that should not be why voters should be denied their fundamental rights.
Trust in the Electoral Commission
There are growing voices in opposition to this proposal from the Commission, which is not to say that there is no support for it either.
However, the Commission is facing a huge trust deficit where Ghanaians are concerned. In the most recent round of the Afrobarometer survey (Round 9, 2022), only one out of ten (10%) Ghanaians said they trust the commission “a lot.”
I focus on those saying “a lot” because it is the highest level of unwavering trust citizens can repose in an institution and to which I believe institutions must aspire.
Should those who responded “somewhat” be added to those who answered “a lot,” it would only come up to two out of ten (23%) who responded saying such. This is the same Commission in Round 3, 2005 of the same survey had five out of ten (50%) Ghanaians saying they trusted it “a lot.”
Since this round, where the Commission enjoyed its highest trust levels, there has been a cumulative decline of forty percentage points (-40%) of respondents who say they trust the Commission “a lot.” Such levels of trust make the dialogue with stakeholders very difficult because no matter how noble the intentions, it continues to be marred by these negative perceptions.
The role of partisans
In the political realm, a dynamic exists where the posture of our two main political parties – the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the New Patriotic Party (NPP), towards the Electoral Commission varies based on whether they are in power or opposition.
In my opinion, this posture affects how the actions or inactions of the EC as an institution are viewed.
In the Afrobarometer years in which the NDC was the ruling party, on average, 40% of those who described themselves as feeling close to the party said they trusted the Commission a lot compared to only 25% on average who said the same in the years of the surveys when the party was in opposition.
In the Afrobarometer years where the NPP was the ruling party, on average, 39% of those who described themselves as feeling close to the party said they trusted the commission a lot compared to only 16% on average who said the same in the years of the surveys when the party was in opposition. If the issue of trust I spoke of in the previous points makes the work of the commission challenging, the partisan element further exacerbates it.
In the final analysis
I hope as it continues to engage all stakeholders and as the constitutional instruments make their way through the legislative process, the Commission will become amenable to some of the suggestions it receives. Ultimately, its actions or inactions should restore trust and confidence, not erode it.