Many misinformed and ignorant people think an election is rigged only on polling day. They believe that protecting their votes on election day is the key to stopping an election from being rigged.
The fact, however, is that an election can be rigged years or months before polling day. One common phenomenon in electoral fraud is VOTER SUPPRESSION —- where the voter is, for instance, deliberately prevented from registering to vote.
The importance of registering to vote cannot be overemphasized enough, but when a government is determined to rig the election, ensuring that you register is not a guarantee that the election will be free and fair.
Some African and third world governments and even so-called advanced democracies have perfected the art of election rigging, and they no longer wait until polling day. The voter registration process is now one of the methods surreptitiously used to rig elections in Africa today. Opposition parties that do not want to be nutmegged into bogus elections by fraudulent governments must be very vigilant and hawk-eyed throughout the process of elections, from the beginning of the process to the end, the counting of votes and announcement of results.
Democratic institutions and monitoring organizations have discovered that undemocratic governments have now devised subtle methods of erecting unnecessary barriers to stop genuine would-be voters from registering to vote. Stricter ID laws, which on the surface could look legitimate, are now one of the ways that elections are rigged before polling day. Restricting the terms and requirements of registration is also a noted system providing elections these days. These undemocratic methods result in what is known as the criminal disenfranchisement of voters
It is hoped that the Government of Sierra Leone will do everything in its power to address the problems that have arisen so far in the voter registration process that started two days ago, ahead of the presidential, council, and parliamentary elections next year. There have been complaints, especially in opposition strongholds in the Northwest, about registration machines being defective or facing operational glitches, thus either keeping people waiting for hours under rain or burning sun or returning home without registration. Defenders and supporters of the President Maada Bio’s Sierra Leone People’s Party ( SLPP ) government have said that the problems are widespread and not confined to opposition strongholds alone. In contrast, supporters of the opposition protest that the issues are more prevalent in their backyards.
If voters find themselves burdened by unnecessary, previously unanticipated problems in registering, it amounts to voter suppression. It is a crime under the Federal voters laws of the United States, for instance. Registration should be free and fair as the voting process. When it is not, democracy is compromised, and the credibility of the whole elections process is questioned.
The 2023 elections in Sierra Leone must be free, fair, and credible to build upon the successes of the country’s democratic electoral processes and to sustain peace and stability in the country following the brutal 11- year war.
WIMAGE will continue to monitor the voter registration process in Sierra Leone.
By Kabs Kanu
Public Relations Officer
Women in Elections Auditing and Monitoring Globally ( WIMAGE ), Washington DC, USA