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Opinions of Thursday, 21 May 2020

Columnist: Dr. Samuel Adjei Sarfo

Chipping in on the new electoral register

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The cacophony about the compilation of a new register is moot. Once an agency has the power to perform an act, that power will be sustained by the courts unless there is a very high bar to show that the agency’s actions are absurd and unreasonable.

(See Chevron USA Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council Inc. in which that agency deference was established in law). Simply put, if an agency has the power to perform an act, and even where its construction of its powers are flawed, the court will still defer to the agency even where the court’s interpretation of the coterminous statute defers from that of the agency’s.

But those arguing against the compilation of the new register are arguing logistics and emotions, not the legality of the agency’s decision. Viewed in this way, every challenge against the Electoral Commission’s decision to compile a new register will fall flat on its face, in view of existing law and precedent. This simple fact may well be in full and glaring knowledge of those opposed to the new registration exercise; hence their resort to threats and fear mongering.

We should definitely continue with our own electoral process whether there is a pandemic or not. Those immutable acts of God will continue to live with us; and so it cannot form a valid reason for the termination of the democratic process, otherwise we will continue to terminate our democratic processes forever, supporting the termination on a spurious emergency excuse, real or imagined.

If we are also concerned with the present restrictive access to the vote, our concern ought to be soundly argued for the dilation of the votes. For indeed, it should not be the case that people who qualify to vote will be deprived of that right.

If the use of the ID card being made by the National Identification Authority is insufficient or has not been issued to the mass of voters in the country, alternative arrangements for alternative identification should be in place. We should broaden the use of other means of identification to ensure that those who want to vote get to vote as of right. We cannot however argue that we should scrap the effort to register because this logistical problem exists.

Nor can we argue that time is too short to compile a new register. That is still a logistical problem for the EC which will institute appropriate measures for its resolution. We cannot just imagine or ascribe insurmountable problems for the Commission and use it to argue against its decision to compile a new register.

Here in America, it is permissible in some states for voters to register on the day of voting and still be permitted to vote! It is also permissible for people to swear citizenship affidavits, witnessed by two or three citizens, and be allowed to vote whether they are registered or not.

It is also disingenuous to cite names in the old register as evidence that millions of people will be disenfranchised. That old register will no more apply or be a reference for anything as soon as a new one is prepared.

That register will not be in existence by law, and the new one will be the reference for all intent and purpose. Of this fact, let us simply say that there are good reasons why new registers are compiled: People are born or die, or migrate or simply move out of their voting jurisdictions. All these factors could make a register a bloated one, and lead to ghost voting and vote-rigging.

To argue that because the same voter register was used in the past, it must therefore be used in the future is also a non sequitur. That kind of argument is so weak that those making it ought to be ashamed of themselves. The same applies to those threatening mayhem for the simple administrative duty of compiling a new register. This country has survived all elections disputes and has withstood all challenges appertaining to them.

Besides, there is no record of civil order or civil war in this country in the face of extreme and extraordinary provocation, and this flimsy excuse is rather silly for one to occur. To argue therefore that this nation is going to burn down because of the compilation of a voter registration is simply asinine. At the same time, nobody should be arrested for voicing this opinion without any showing that they are in preparation to visit chaos upon the country.

The bigger issue is that the electoral Commission should ignore these threats and go ahead to prepare a new register. People can challenge the Commission in court and lose; or simply refuse to register as of right. This is the extent of their rights as citizens. The Commission itself will set a dangerous precedent if it were to stop the registration exercise simply because some citizens oppose it or threaten the country. If this Commission cannot make a decision to compile a new register, it cannot take the more difficult decision to conduct elections in the country in general.

In the end, elections are won or lost at the polls as the Supreme Court of Ghana succinctly put it in the elections dispute matter. Elections are not won or lost because of an electoral register. It is even reasonable to suggest a system of automatic registration at birth, and the ongoing inclusion in the voting register as a citizen attains the age of eighteen.

Also conceivable is the idea of automatic screening out of those who have died and are issued certificates of death. In addition, those of voting age cannot be disallowed from voting even if they appear at the voting station without their names being in the register. Other citizens can vouch for them to vote.

The preeminent scheme ought to permit all people of voting age to vote, and not to prevent anybody by use of some unreasonable excuses or artificially restrictive means. Our duties as citizens will be to watch the votes from beginning to the end, to maintain its integrity and authenticity throughout the process.

Of these duties, the compilation of a new register is of the least concern. There ought to be a time when computer systems will indeed enter everybody automatically in the register for purposes of voting in Ghana. Until then, the extent of our rights as citizens is to ensure that those who are qualified to vote do vote without let or hinderance; and that after voting, every vote counts!

Dr. Samuel Adjei Sarfo, Esq.

Austin, Texas, USA