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Politics of Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Source: myjoyonline

EC's Parry says vigilance is key; explains EC shortcomings

Christian Owusu Parry, the Acting Director of Public Affairs at the Electoral Commission (EC), has said while the EC does its best to ensure smooth voting exercises, the key to fair, transparent elections is vigilance on the part of voters and especially polling agents.

Appearing on Joy FM’s Super Morning Show Wednesday, he explained the EC’s system for counting ballots and transmitting results up the data chain to the Commission’s Accra Headquarters. At every step, he said, it is the watchful eyes of concerned Ghanaians and party-aligned polling agents that keep the process honest.

At polling stations, he said ballots are publicly counted in front of anyone who cares to watch and polling agents sign a statement of polls listing the number of votes, spoilt ballots, and eligible voters. These results are physically transported to constituency-level collation centers, where the results of all polling stations in the constituency are summed up and transferred onto a constituency collation sheet.

Mr Owusu Parry further explained that party agents and EC officials also sign these documents but he was careful to point out that in case an error occurs while adding up results, all agents with calculators or laptops are encouraged to double check the math. Figures from these sheets are finally transferred to summary sheets, which he said are faxed to the EC headquarters.

Mr Owusu Parry said that it is difficult to imagine how figures could differ from one level to the next if everyone is sufficiently vigilant every step of the way, explaining that the many sets of eyes constantly observing the process are what gives it credibility.

He described the electronic biometric verification system implemented this year as a security measure that prevented voter impersonation, but he also acknowledged that some hitches that arose with the verification machines.

In some cases, he said, the machines’ operators became overwhelmed by the pressures of Election Day. In an effort to keep the queue of voters moving, he suspects that some neglected to change the machines’ batteries at the proper time, leading to serious malfunctions.

In other cases, he said, the machines were unable to read the fingerprints of voters who had failed to properly follow hand-washing instructions. Mr Owusu Parry added that by late Friday, the EC had no choice but to adjourn the election until Saturday because by law, constituents could not vote without being verified.

Communications Minister Haruna Idrissu called into the show at one point to recommend that the EC adopts a barcode system the next time around to speed up the verification process.

The EC official replied that the EC is open to all suggestions on how to approve service delivery.

He also addressed a variety of other hitches that arose during the voting exercise.

In some places, especially around Accra, voting materials were not delivered to polling stations promptly by 7 am when voting was slated to begin, arriving after 1 pm in some locations.

Mr. Parry explained that voting materials are usually packed into rows of open around 1 am, but said rain delayed this process. As a result, some vehicles transporting these materials did not start their rounds until 7 am, at which point they encountered traffic.

He said that in spite of this hindrance, he believes that this approach is the EC’s best option because delivering the materials too early would increase their chances of being tampered with or stolen.

Speaking of vehicles that fell behind on their delivery schedules after running out of fuel, he said that it can be hard to get gas in Accra after 9 pm and that some district officers who waited too long were unable to buy it.

Mr. Parry reported that in spite of a redesigned ballot paper, the number of spoilt ballots increased for the second election in a row, meaning that the EC will have to come out with yet another design for the ballot next time.

Explaining why the EC declared results in spite of the New Patriotic Party’s (NPP) request for an injunction, he said the party failed to deliver figures for each polling station whose tallies they claimed were doctored. Unable to properly investigate the allegations, the EC left the matter for the courts.

On the topic of EC officials who performed badly during the elections, he said those who deliberately engaged in sabotage could be legally punished but those who impeded the process through negligence would simply not be invited to participate next time.

He revealed that the EC’s website crashed at some point because it was experiencing an excessively high volume of web traffic. Mr Owusu Parry also said that strict EC protocols for transmitting results forced the organization to release information more slowly than media houses, who rely on phone communication rather than the physical delivery of signed documents.