Why is it that when elections are approaching the general citizenry are both hopeful and apprehensive? Why do some people concentrate on the Election Day and forget that all the activities in the electoral cycle are equally important? If you want to search for correct answers to these, you will have to understand all what it takes to have successful elections, pre, during and post. One thing to note here is that because the greatest number of our compatriots remain unfortunately illiterate, their knowledge level on things with western concepts also remain alarmingly low. The other angle also is that generally as a nation, we are so engrossed in searching for livelihood options on a daily basis that we skip other issues that are equally important if our lives are to be seen as meaningful. As human beings, Our Creator intended us to live life to the fullest and not just exist in this world.
The Civil and Voter registration for the March 7, 2018 General elections has commenced and will run from Mach 20 to April 16, 2017. You might want to ask what is unique about the 2017 Civil and Voter Registration. With the creation by law of the National Civil Registration Authority (NCRA), to replace the National Registration Secretariat at ITA Wallace- Johnson Street, it appears that two bodies are given the authority to do registration. While the afore-mentioned body deals with civil registration, the National Election Commission (NEC) has the mandate to register voters. The law that set up the NCRA came out in 2016, without making any reference to the Public Election Act 12 which mandates NEC to be responsible for conducting elections in Sierra Leone.
Although many Sierra Leones want to register, many more are still confused about what Civil Registration is all about. I will tell you. Civil Registration is the system by which government record (in a continuous, permanent, compulsory and universal manner) the occurrence and characteristics of vital events (births, deaths, marriages, adoptions, nullities, divorces etc related to its citizens and non- citizens, as provided by and in accordance with an established legal framework. The resulting data base is called a National Civil Register. (NEC, Frequently Asked Questions)
On the other hand Voter registration is the process of verifying the identity of potential voters and entering their notes and other substantiating information on a voters’ list. In almost all countries where elections are held, voters must be registered in order to be eligible to participate in an election. (NEC Frequently Asked Questions.)
We do voter registration to ensure that everyone entitled to vote does so to prevent ineligible persons from voting, and to guard against multiple voting by the same person (s).
This election voter registration is unique in that the end product will serve a permanent nature and only updating will be done from time to time. In a time of austerity, I am sure the populace will be happy that the Civil Registration is not paid for by citizens. What also is good is that the voter registration will be done first from March 20 to April 16. This will not only capture information for voting, it will also capture information for the Civil Registration. The only issue here is that for you to vote, you must register during the specified period and not wait after. You might register after April 16 2017 but it will be for the civil registration. The reason is that NEC, after April 16, 2017, will start entering the information in their data base. The need to finish the process in compliance with a legislated deadline. This means if people do not register within the given time, they may be delayed if the time set is not followed. The average sierra Leonean would like to wait until the last week to register. I tell you, it is better that you register in the first two weeks.
For you to be eligible to vote, you must be a sierra Leonean by law; you should be 18 years and above by March 7, 2018 i.e. you must have been born on or before March 7, 2000; be on sound mind (people who have been committed to a mental asylum or judge to be insane are not eligible to register: Not imprisoned for conviction of a crime or under death sentence; Ordinarily resident in the area where he/she wishes to register.
In normal circumstances you do not need to submit any document to be registered except if the eligibility, or identity; or residential status of the applicant is in doubt. When Eligibility is in doubt, you have to show documents to support you and for the residential info, you will need to come along with your local tax receipt.
For some elections now there have been both local and international observer teams. Observers’ presence through the election process helps for the following reasons: to help the electioneering process to be transparent and to increase public confidence. Observers also raise the knowledge level of voters to see the essence of voting as a citizen. What is interesting now is that observers observe all the major activities in the electioneering process. The essence of this is that the various activities contribute to the outcome of the election results. What we need to know is that rigging does not only happen on the day of the elections. Rigging can actually happen, from the census to the counting of the results. Every activity is important and to my mind is interdependent of the other activities. Remember that if a census is flawed, this will contribute to disenfranchising some sections of the community.
A very major activity that could be really sensitive is the Boundary delimitation which is normally described as complex, expensive, sensitive and difficult. The district quotas are estimated from the population given by the Census. There are other criteria but population is the foremost to determine the number of constituencies and Wards. It is worth noting at this point that it is the Parliament that determines the number of seats that should be considered for each election for the 2018 elections the number of seats determine by Parliament is 132 excluding the seats for Paramount chiefs.
Another very critical activity of the electioneering process is the registration, which is the subject of this piece. For Sierra Leone there has been a lot of debate on citizenship, age and sometimes even parentage. Our country for a very long time has not been that serious about keeping correct data. We have had situations where the same person has different information on different documents. This makes it very difficult to determine some people’s real age. Those in government will tell you that there is the official age and then the real age used at the convenience of the person having the information.
Is this not the reason why some people reach the retirement age of 60 but continue in the serve for another 10 years or so? My Brother, like a prominent journalist once said Salone Nar place wae you kin get you death certificate while you are still alive! We only hope that as we register to vote, those who created the pains of yesterday will not have control over the pleasures of tomorrow.
By Ben Cambayma
Friday March 24, 2017.