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'Toning down on elections' by Rodney Nkrumah-Boateng

By Rodney Nkrumah-Boateng
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As far as voting in national elections goes, I probably am in pole position. I vote in the Manhyia South Constituency in Kumasi and my voting centre, Elizabeth Kessie Polling Station, is right outside my living room window of my home in Ashanti New Town’s Downtown.

Elizabeth Kessie is my late maternal grandmother who built the house in the 1950s.

Interestingly enough, my MP, Dr Matthew Opoku Prempeh (NAPO), also happens to be my boss at the Energy Ministry.

Accessing my MP with my issues is, therefore, a question of a gentle stroll to his office.

Happily, on election day I can analyse the queue from my living room window, figure out when it is light and then stroll out to the top of the queue to vote.

This perk overrides every inconvenience of the electoral invasion of the frontage of my home once every four years, so I hope Elizabeth Kessie remains a polling station for many years to come. 

Quasi-permanent election mode

We seem to be in a permanent election mode in this country, and in between elections, we are focused on one aspect or the other of the election process.

In the first year or so after the elections, the losers are focused on the grieving process, analysing what went wrong and writing reports to that effect, together with in-house finger-pointing and blame-heaping, with an occasional dash to the Supreme Court for redress.

The winners, on the other hand, spend some time basking in self-praise and rubbing salt into opposition wounds, reminding the losers that indeed they lost, aside from embarking on several thank-you tours around the country.

Thanksgiving services with the obligatory white apparel quite blend into the mix of the post-election euphoria for the winners.

When we have all paused to catch our collective breath from our giddiness and lamentations, as the case may be, we do a wee bit of governance and then the national conversation switches, primarily, to  the next election, with speculations about flag bearer and running mate for each party, and then intra-party elections all the way from polling stations to national executives and then flag bearer, by which time we are essentially in quasi-full campaign mode with all its accoutrements and drama as campaign songs and slogans start taking shape.

EC’s 2024 proposals

Last week, when I read that the Electoral Commission (EC) had organised a two-day workshop to review Election 2020 and plan for Election 2024 by discussing a number of ideas, I allowed myself a wry smile as it occurred to me that the EC had fired the starting gun.

Interestingly, the NDC, probably still sore from its fallout with the EC over the 2020 Election, boycotted the event, but followed proceedings closely enough to organise a press conference to address some of the issues arising out of the workshop. But that is an aside.

Of the 16-point proposal by the EC that was agreed on by the Interparty Advisory Committee (IPAC) at the end of the two-day review workshop, two caught my eye and gladdened my heart.

First is the proposal to close the polls at 3pm instead of the current closing time of 5pm.

This will mean that no one will be admitted to the polling station to cast their ballot after 3pm, but if a voter happens to be in the queue after 3pm, voting will continue until everybody in the queue has voted.

According to the EC, the move is to help pave the way for early counting of votes and declaration of results at the polling station, and to avoid the inconveniences associated with the late close of polls.

The second proposal is to do away with the periodic voter registration exercise for new voters who have either turned 18 since the previous election or are not registered for any other reason.

In its place, a continuous voter registration will be operated to enable citizens who turned 18 years and those who had not previously registered to do so.

Sensible proposals

At the 33,367 polling stations around the country, counting begins as darkness fast approaches following the closure of polls at 5pm.

With the mantra that ‘elections are won at polling stations’ firmly seared in the public mind, and the knowledge that a lot of things happen under the cover of darkness, this has always meant a suspicious, eagle-eyed crowd circling the EC officials as they count each single vote, sometimes under the glare of a torch.

From there the collation centre process takes place till late into the night, in many cases.

Aside from the unnecessary tensions that the nocturnal situations can lead to, the fact remains that most of the time, the queues have gone down considerably by 2 or 3pm anyway, and the election officials have to watch the clock slowly inch to 5pm before formalities can begin to wind down.

I think that at polling stations where the queues usually stretch to closing time, a case can be made for splitting them into two to enable early closure.

On the continuous registration, I think it is a fantastic idea. You’ve turned 18, or you now wish to be registered to vote? 

No problem - just pop over to the nearest EC office and register, along with your required documents.

It saves costs and does away with the tension and inconvenience of a periodic voter registration process during a particular window.

Normalising elections

Since 1992, our national elections have always been preceded by a sense of tension and apprehension, replete with rabid rhetoric, petty arguments and the rattling of political sabres.

Perhaps, given our ‘winner-takes-all’ system and the ‘spoils of war’ that electoral victors enjoy, this is not surprising.

But we need not get to the edge of the precipice during every election season, only for the peace industry to step in and remind us that we are all Ghanaians and do not need to kill each other over elections.

We must begin the process of normalising the electoral process and deconstructing all the frenzied baggage around it.

These two proposals by the EC, among others, constitute good steps in that direction and I think it is right and proper to support them. We must move on.