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Opinions of Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Columnist: K. Badu

Are we witnessing the twilight of vote rigging?

I recently read from somewhere that some members of the opposition NDC Party are blaming their humiliating 2016 election defeat on a technical hitch to their results collation system. How bizarre?

In fact, when I was perusing through the weird story, I thought I was dreaming. But I was not, I was wide awake. The story is so bizarre, so to speak.

After all, haven’t we been told by our apex court that elections are won at the polling stations?

Of course, the eminent Supreme Court judges pronouncement was in order. But then again, the results of elections could be manipulated using technological gimmicks behind the scenes.

In my opinion, vote rigging has a perceptible likeness to a violation of allegiance to a sovereign nation. Thus frankly speaking, such a high crime must not and cannot be overlooked with a stark perfunctory.

Ironically, the worst part of vote rigging is that, the deserving winners’ may never know they ever won. How cruel, how pathetic and how unfair that would be?

I have said time and time again that it is unacceptable for the electorates to go to the polls with a view to voting for their preferred candidate and only for the people behind the scenes to select who should become a winner.

Let us however be honest, no serious political party will sit aloofly and allow its opponent to rig elections time and time again.

Undoubtedly, electoral fraudsters will move heaven and earth to ensure victory for their preferred candidate, especially, in our part of the world (Africa).

There is a widely held view that the vote rigging cartel, with the able connivance of electoral officials, more often than not, roll up a fiendish plan to rig elections.

Well, you may believe it or not, but the fact remains that the vote rigging cartel’s operable plan may include caging, spoiling, computerization, tossing, stuffing, rejecting, amongst others.

“Computerization “is used in most democracies. “Computerization “is the process of using computerized "black box" voting machines.

These machines are notoriously subject to sophisticated, vote-changing "hacking". In this instance, a great deal of damage is affected just by "glitches", where the machines simply fail to record votes. This is taken advantage of, in the simplest term, by placing the oldest and least reliable machines in the opposition party’s precincts or strongholds.

That said, it would be strategically suicidal on the part of any political party to sit idly and sufficiently inure the shenanigans of an opponent who has a risible inclination for influencing the outcome of elections.

The electoral cheats would execute their evil acts which may include purging, (a clandestine act designed to alienate eligible voters from exercising their democratic rights).

Purging in partisan election is simply the unlawful ‘deletion or cleansing’ of suspected political opponents from the voters register by officials through computer databases that identify voter characteristics (tribe/ethnicity, residence location, etc.,--emphasis mine).

In other words, the databases would roll names of persons suspected to be sympathetic to the opposition party. And, often, the election officials would give flimsy and extraneous excuses for the removal of duly registered voters.

Regrettably, purging disgustingly and inexcusably takes away the democratic rights of some citizens. And, more importantly, this abhorrent practice unjustifiably puts a particular political party at a substantial disadvantage.

What is more, electoral officials could prevent or block eligible voters from registering or exercising their adult universal suffrage.

Blocking registration, in its simplest term, is whereby the partisan election officials turn down registration applications, selectively, sometimes without informing the eligible voter.

And, to save officials the trouble of doing even that, unnecessary directives are often put in place to prevent eligible voters from registering.

There may also be some instances whereby some registered voters may be sent away when they show up to vote. The ejection occurs mainly when a registered voter fails to produce state-approved photo ID.

Anecdotally, in the December 2016 general elections in Ghana, a number of voters on the special voting register were allegedly prevented from exercising their democratic rights amid flimsy excuses.

Moreover, prior to the 2016 general election, we witnessed how a number of students from tertiary institutions across the country were needlessly blocked from registering during the 2016 limited registration exercise, by not providing adequate Biometric registration machines.

Clearly, such an unpardonable act does not in any way promote the spirit of universal adult suffrage we are all craving for.

Worst of all, prior to the 2016 general election, there were reported cases of pre-ballot thumb printing by some candidates with a view to “stuffing” the ballot boxes.

Stuffing boxes with phony ballots and cheating with the counting behind the scenes, are the old-fashioned ways of rigging elections. Yet in contemporary elections, electoral fraudsters would use such a contemptible act to gain an unduly advantage over their opponents.

If that was not the case, how come during the 2012 election for instance, officials elsewhere issued 150 ballots and ended up with 170 in the ballot box?

How do we classify such irregularity? Is that ‘stuffing of ballots’ or ‘influx of foreign materials?

Either way, for me, such act is criminal and nauseating. Thus it is unacceptable that such abominable act should be given a nod of affirmation.

In his 2012 election petition verdict, Justice Atuguba made some contestable observations including the definition of over-voting which was one of the claims brought up by the petitioners.

“The first is where the number of those who voted at a polling station exceeds the number of voters contained in the relevant polling station register.” “The second situation is where the number of ballots in the ballot book exceeds the number of ballot papers issued to the relevant polling station.”

“Pondering over these two categories closely, I would think that the second category of over voting is rather an instance of ballot-stuffing as testified by Johnson Asiedu-Nketia,” the presiding judge delineated in his 48-page opinion.

Given the suspects apparent contemptible approach to gaining electoral advantage over their opponents, I will forever be in disagreement with anyone who acknowledges ballot stuffing as a mere misdemeanour.

Yes, I wholly acquiesce to the fact that ballot stuffing does exist, but the big question is: would such squeamish and conspiratorial plot not amount to over voting, going by Asiedu Nketia’s unconventional definition of over voting?

If you may recall, during the 2012 election petition hearing, Asiedu Nketia infamously referred to over voting as “the influx of foreign materials in the ballot box”.

Interestingly, however, Dr Afari-Gyan admitted under cross examination during the 2012 election petition hearing that over voting may also occur in the event of the votes in the ballot box exceeding the number of verified voters.

This, for me, is a poignant definition of over voting, as in my opinion, it would be easier to fish out the phony votes or stuffed ballot papers (Apologies to Justice Atuguba).

In any case, I would like to believe that the 2012 election petition spawned enormous benefits, most notably, the eminent Supreme Court Judges pronouncement to the effect that elections are usually won at the polling stations and not in the court rooms.

Obviously, such pronouncement illuminated the then opposition NPP’s benightedness on the need to be more vigilant on future elections.

Unsurprisingly, however, the NPP Party leadership put in place perfect strategy. More importantly, the party loyalists and sympathisers were more vigilant before, during and after the 2016 general election.

Take, for instance, we were told that the NPP leadership hired an erudite information technology personnel, gave bespoke training to their numerous polling station agents and motivated them, which resulted in motivation to transfer on the election day.

We also heard that in the Volta Region (the stronghold of the NDC Party), the NPP leadership prudently prevented non-Ghanaians from voting through their ‘Operation Eagle Eye.

Coincidentally, however, the Region registered a very low voter turnout and the NDC’s votes in the Volta Region reduced drastically, compared to the previous elections.

Somehow, the trend continued in almost all the ten regions in Ghana. Thus, many observers have since been attributing the reason to voter apathy. But I, for one, would not buy such a specious observation.

The fact of the matter is that the NPP leadership played their cards right on this occasion, through well-executed strategy and the all-important vigilance.

So, to the NDC sore losers: cease your needless political insobriety and concentrate on winning elections at the polling stations rather than always banking all hopes on technological and collation room gimmicks.

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