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Ghanaians Must Demand A New Voters Register Or Forget 2016   
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“If our population is indeed 22 million, then perhaps 13 million people on our register would be statistically unacceptable by world standards. If that is the case, then it may mean that there is something wrong with our register.” - Dr Afari Gyan on the 2008 Voter Register

The above words from the Chairman of Ghana’s Electoral Commission were said on 15th September, 2008. In that interview with Joy FM’s Super Morning Show Kojo Oppong-Nkrumah, Dr. Kwadwo Afari Gyan, with three months to that crucial general elections, admitted there was something statistically wrong with Ghana’s voters register.

Dr. Afari Gyan announced to the nation that having 13 million names in the voters register, given Ghana's population estimated then to be 22 million, was statistically unacceptable.

The EC boss blamed it on three main illegalities: multiple registration, registration of minors and non-citizens of Ghana, who are not eligible to register to vote. Added to that, were the names of dead people remaining on the register.

A year later, civil society (with the Danquah Institute at the forefront), political parties, the Electoral Commission, and with support from development partners and government, all agreed that the way forward was to compile a new register, using biometric technology, since every person has unique biometric data that cannot be, in theory, replicated.

A new register was, therefore, compiled by May 2012. Significantly, the results saw no significant improvement on the doubtful numbers. Ghana’s total population, after the 2010 national census, was put at 24,965,816 in 2012. The biometric register captured 14,031,763. This translates into 56.2% of the population.

What is most bizarre about the new, ostensibly cleaned up voters list was that, the biometric register in fact ended up representing the voters’ register with the largest percentage size of the population since 1992.

For example, the 2008 register of voters was 54.5% of the total population. In fact, the 2004 register, arguably the cleanest of them all, was, at 49.5% of the population, smaller in both numbers (10,354,970) and percentages than the 2000 voters register, which had 10,700,252 names, representing 55.5% of the population then.

The Danquah Institute was persistent in calling for details of the 2010 census to be made public before the new voter registration exercise started in April 2012. But, this call was ignored. We knew that could help track two things that would otherwise not be obvious to a biometric register: people below the age of 18 and foreigners resident in Ghana or bussed in for voter registration.

You simply cannot have a country that claimed 60% of its population was below the age of 30 ending up with a voters list of 56% of that same population, comprising of those of 18 years old and above!

If Dr. Afari Gyan in 2008 believed that it was statistically impossible to have more than half of our population being eligible to vote in 2008 then why was he mute in

2012 when that register even had more numbers than any other register before it?

In 2012, another notable African country that compiled a new voters register using biometric technology, like Ghana, was Kenya. But, the stark statistical difference between the two countries is most curious. Kenya, with a population of 41,609,728, captured 14,362,189 eligible voters on its new register, representing 34.5%. Now, how can Ghana, with almost half the population of Kenya, have nearly the same number of people on their voters list as Kenya?

Something must be wrong with one of the country numbers above. And, that country with doubtful numbers must be Ghana.

The incontrovertible evidence can be found from doing a comparative analysis with population sizes and registered voters in other countries. Even Zimbabwe, where discrepancies are detected between the population census and voters register, they do not have more than half of the entire population on the register. In 2013, out of a total population of 13,182,908, exactly 6,400,000 names were captured on the voters list. But, a look at the census figures shows that a smaller figure of 5,696,780 people were of voting age. Not even the alleged bloated register there crossed the 50% mark, as it happened in Ghana.

I have provided below a comparative table of voter population as opposed to total population of other countries in Africa.
  Country Registered % of registered voters to  
Country Population voters the total population  
Kenya 41,609,728 14,362,189 34.5%  
Ghana 24,965,816 14,031,763 56.2%  
Nigeria 162,470,737 67,764,327 41.7%  
Senegal 12,767,556 5,302,349 41.5%  
Tanzania 46,218,486 19,650,412 42.5%  


A  report  on  the  enhanced  integrity  of  the  new  Kenyan  register,  compiled  by

December 2012, reads tellingly: “The use of BVR has provided Kenya with the largest and cleanest registry in the country's history. It removed the 'dead voters' that plagued earlier registries and prevented people from registering twice. The creation of the registry using BVR now allows the IEBC to link to the national database of deaths and new identity card registrations to keep the voter registry up to date, something few countries in the continent are able to do and a substantial improvement for this and all future elections in Kenya.”

Can the same be said of Ghana? In my view, Ghanaians must call for a new voters register to be compiled. It should be seen as the first necessary step in ensuring that we have a free, fair, transparent, and peaceful general elections in 2016. Without it, the risk of having another disputed election looms large.

Unfortunately, there is no indication that any political party in 2016 can seek to appease its supporters who may feel cheated by walking to the Supreme Court again rather than hitting the streets.

So how do we begin the process of averting any ugly possibilities in 2016? Let us start with a credible register!

Compiling a new voters’ register would be costly, no doubt. I can see a government that is struggling to reduce its load of fiscal deficit resisting at all cost any such extra expenditure. I can also feel some donor fatigue there. But, we should not give up. In fact, we cannt give up!

The cost of going to the 2016 elections with a register that has been shown, through evidence in court, to be anything but credible, can be far more than the actual cost of compiling a new register. Let us keep this in mind.

What can be done is for the EC and all state agencies to agree and chart a constitutional line that can give us a national biometric voter ID that can also serve other purposes in our national quest for a credible comprehensive national population data system. This will make it cost-effective and a key component to our push for development.

I am urging all the political parties, especially the ones in opposition, and all meaning Ghanaians not to give an inch in the push for a credible register for 2016. They must not compromise on this. We can begin with an independent audit of the 2012 register to remove any doubt that it is not credible.

It would be difficult to make any convincing argument in support of the 2012 register. For example, in the small list of 705 names from various diplomatic missions abroad furnished by the Electoral Commission in the course of the election petition trial, there were 51 instances of duplicate names, adding up to 102 of the 705.

We should put partisan hats aside and focus on the national interest. We cannot afford to go back to court and we cannot afford the alternative to a disputed election. Both will be far too costly than the cash involved for the compilation of a new biometric register.

What the focus must be is on how to enhance the monitoring of the exercise to prevent minors and foreigners from registering. After that, how credible will be the cleaning up exercise to take out any instances of multiple registration? All this calls for two important things.

First, the EC must ensure the process involves a transparent international tender to get a credible company to the job. The second and equally important condition is the vigilance of party agents.

The opposition parties cannot afford the cost of vigilance for a two-week or four-week exercise involving thousands of centres nationwide. The state must, therefore, be compelled to fund the cost of having party agents trained and present to supervise the process.

The table below shows why we need a new register. It is indefensible to say that in

Ghana’s push to tackle multiple registration and ghost names, the only biometric register in our history is the one with the largest number of the population!
  Ghana's Registered % of registered voters to
Year Population voters the total population
1992 15,980,974 7,401,370 46.3%
1996 17,698,300 9,219,605 52.1%
2000 19,272,495 10,700,252 55.5%
2004 20,922,726 10,354,970 49.5%
2008 22,871,021 12,472,759 54.5%
2012 24,965,816 14,031,763 56.2%

It is also important to remember that, besides 2004, which had a relatively credible register, the 80.15% voter turnout in 2012 was the highest since 1992. In 2008,

69.5% of registered voters turned out to vote in the crucial election, after two consecutive terms of incumbent party and the expected instinct of a sizeable number of the masses for change. See the table below.
Year Voter turnout Voter turnout %
1992 4,127,876 50.2%
1996 7,266,693 78.3%
2000 6,633,306 61.7%
2004 8,813,908 85.1%
2008 8,671,272 69.5%
2012 10,995,262 80.15%


The writer is the publisher of the New Statesman, and founder of the Danquah  Institute, a centre for public policy research. His email: [email protected]
Source: Gabby Asare Otchere-Darko

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