Liberia: On 2nd Thoughts – The Supreme Court’s Intervention in Recent Electoral Disputes

-Why the need for rerun in Grand Bassa County District #5

The Liberian Supreme Court on Wednesday, January 17, 2024, ordered an immediate recount in several electoral districts across the country where alleged vote manipulation had been reported following the October 10, 2023, Presidential and Legislative elections.

Among the districts in which the Supreme Court mandated immediate recounts was Grand Bassa County District #5, the case involving incumbent Representative Thomas Goshua of the Coalition of Political Parties (CPP) and Mrs. Juah S. Dennis of the Unity Party.

The purpose of the High Court’s decision was to ensure complete compliance with the Electoral Law of Liberia which seeks transparent and accurate determination of election results that reflect the will of the electorates.

However, it appears like this mandate has not been fully complied with in Grand Bassa District number 5, rather it seems to have exposed further frauds or discrepancies from the National Elections Commission’s (NEC) own tally sheets.

A comparison between the October 10, 2023, results that were announced by NEC and the January 2024 recounts shows overwhelming discrepancies. At some polling centers the recount shows an increase in the number of voters that turn out, while in other places the number of people who turn out witnessed reduced. And that is besides the disputed results which show 29 points difference between the two leading candidates.

The Board of Commissioners at the National Elections Commission (NEC) needs to examine critically to make a bold decision.

From various accounts in the district, some of the ballot boxes were brought in with either their seals broken or swiped on different boxes thereby creating doubts, with many suggesting that the boxes were tampered with ahead of the recount.

As if that was not enough, the number of ballot papers automatically increased in some boxes, while in others they decreased. At Behn Town Palava Hot Polling place #2, for example, the total number of voters who were reported to have shown up on October 10, 2023, was put at 219. During the recent recount, the NEC Magistrate reported 331. Again, in the same Behn Town at another polling center where it was reported that only 250 voters showed up, the recount reported 300.

On October 10, polling place 4 in Korkor David Town reported turnout on October 10 to be 239, during the recent recount this month, NEC Magistrate reported that only 198 voters showed up.

The recount also shows discrepancies in total validated votes. On October 10, NEC reported that at least 20931 voters turned out to vote in the disputed district. However, during the recent recount, NEC reported 20951.

In addition to these overwhelming discrepancies, authorities at NEC failed to implement fully the Supreme Court’s mandate. The High Court mandate calls for a total recount which should include the total number of ballot papers (both used and unused, spoiled and discarded) along with total valid and invalid votes. NEC only concentrated on valid votes during the recount. NEC also failed to produce the PO journals and FRR.

Another thing that has cast doubt over the recount is that for instance, ballot boxes that recorded say 350 ballot papers reported missing ballot papers reinforcing the belief that the ballot boxes were tampered with but in whose favor?

One of the candidates in the disputed election also claimed that days to the scheduled recounts, men slept in the Magistrate Warehouse for days. The matter was said to have been brought to the attention of the local police detachment in the area, but nothing was done to arrest the situation.

Ballot boxes from some polling stations did not only have their seals broken but some were replaced with seals that were not recorded during the October poll.

Whether there was consistent fraud or not, the absence of PO Journal, FRR, refusal to count all ballot papers used or unused along with broken seals as well as discrepancies speaks volumes. And such a display of total disregard for transparency shown by NEC’s Magistrates at the local level leaves much to be desired.

That said the NEC BoC needs to conduct a thorough investigation if possible, and see reasons for a possible rerun.

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