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Opinions of Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Columnist: Dr Thomas Winsum Anabah

Health perspective on the compilation of the new voters register


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We have read and heard many arguments in both print and televised media for and against the EC exercising its constitutional duties and autonomy to start a process of compiling a new and ‘improved’ voter’s register and we have arrived at the conclusion logic is at war with fanatism. Let’s work it out.

Ghana’s current population is estimated to be about 30 million and about 50% or more of the estimated population are above the age of 18 years and therefore constitute the voter population.

This means that about 15 million Ghanaians are expected to register at any of the 29,000 polling stations in order to get their names and biometric data into the new register. With the voter population, each registration center is expected to register at least 517 people in 14 days.

The EC says it will ensure that each polling at any given time will not have more than 25 persons including security personnel and their own officials.
Assuming the process of registration is without hitches (technically this is not possible) at every registration center, each person will need at least 15 minutes to complete the process and have his voter’s identity card.

This allows the EC to register 32 persons a day in each center. It, therefore, suggests that a minimum of 16 days will be required to complete the registration of all illegible persons.

As it is said, history is always a good teacher and so we should never discount events that may slow this process. These events and occurrences have been with us and we should factor them in any planning and decision making on the election and related processes.

Some of these include: machine failure, objection of guarantors by opposing party representatives, slow internet connectivity, natural events like heavy rains etc. The daily number of persons to be registered will likely drop with any of these occurrences and this will push for an extension of the days.

From ASEPA’s publication, it was made known that less than 25% of eligible voters have the required identity cards demanded for the process. The rest will have to depend on these few to endorse the affidavit before they can register.

This will definitely cause a lot of crowd at the registration centers since many people will have no option but to go along with those who have the required identity card to the centers to get registered. These crowds are the right menu for COVID-19 spread.

FACEMASK AND FACIAL RECOGNITION

The proposed new voter’s register to be compiled for election 2020 include biometric features like facial recognition as one of the security features.

As it stands now, due to the pandemic every Ghanaian leaving his or her home is mandated to wear a facemask as a measure to minimize the spread and acquisition of the deadly coronavirus.

The question is what will happen at the registration centers when people get there with their facemask? Would we be required to take off our facemasks or not? And if we do what are the risks and likely consequences? The likely consequence sadly is one may contract and spread the virus in his quest to register.

FINGERPRINT AND SOCIAL DISTANCING

Again, the new register requires a collection of fingerprint as part of the biometric data. Taking of the fingerprints in most cases will require the assistance of registration officers, meaning there will be a breach of the social distancing rule aimed at preventing the transmission of the virus from one person to the other.

The question is, how safe is one when we know the officer capturing this data would be doing the same to several people in a day? Will the officer be undergoing daily test of COVID-19 or what other safety measures would the EC have in place to prevent the spread of the virus? Will there be transparent physical barriers like the one we have in some banks and embassies?

CROWD AND COVID-19

It is a known fact that coronavirus strives and spreads easily where so many people gather. In Ghana, it is also a known fact that all election-related activities like registration are associated with crowds. What assurance measures is the EC going to put in place to avoid crowding?

Knowing very well that what they are proposing is definitely going to call for crowds, even if you put aside the mode of identification as proposed by the EC, there will still be crowds because everyone would like to make sure he get his or her name on the register. If you add the challenge faced by those without the prescribed identity cards the crowds would be much more. So, who is going to control that crowd to ensure social distancing?

VULNERABLE GROUPS AND COVID-19

Though the virus has shown some ‘lenience’ in its severity in Ghana and Africa as a whole (about 80% presenting with mild symptoms) there are some groups of people who this ‘leniency’ by the virus does not apply when they contract it.

What measure is the EC taking to provide them with the needed protection? These include but not limited to people suffering from the following: Hypertension, diabetes mellitus, hyperlipidemia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, sickle cell disease, asthma, immunosuppression (HIV), obesity, ischemic heart disease, chronic renal failure, cancers, and atrial fibrillation.

Let’s remind the EC that almost every death elsewhere like New York for example from COVID-19 involved one comorbidity with Hypertension, diabetes and dyslipidemia in the lead. These three are currently very common in most adults in Ghana and these are the adult who would be struggling to get their names on the new register, while they already have their name on the current register. In the event that they decide to stay away from the registration for fear of their live they will surely be disenfranchised for that matter.

SENIOR CITIZENS AND COVID-19

Persons of 55 years and above constitute about 10% of our population and constitute a higher percentage in the voter population. The outcome of patients of this age group who have contracted the coronavirus is nothing pleasant to write about. How is this group of people going to be treated in this chaotic exercise of voter register compilation? Are we not subjecting them to a risk of unknown proportions? It is not possible that these people already possess a voter’s card? So why subject them to this torture to get a new one?

CONCLUSIONS

We conclude that the insistence of compiling a new register or limited registration at this crucial moment of COVID-19 is inimical to our survival most especially the vulnerable groups like the elderly, people with diabetes, hypertension, dyslipidemia, asthma, etc

RECOMMENDATION

We suggest the EC Conduct a limited registration after August by which time the world would have a clear treatment guideline for SAR-COV2, test kits for the diagnosis of coronavirus in every hospital probably. Ghana would have been better placed in terms professional preparedness, provisions for isolation centers to better handle any issues of COVID-19.

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