Ghana’s return to constitutional democracy was brought about by sustained internal and external pressure. Its first two elections in the Fourth Republic were fraught with challenges stemming mainly from weak institutions, a general fear of the unknown, and a lack of political education among the majority of the electorate.1For an in-depth discussion on this, see Mike Ocquaye, “The Ghanaian Elections of 1992: A Dissenting View,” African Affairs 94, no. 375 (1995): 259–75. Since then, four more elections have been held, and considerable progress has been made in the democratic journey.2Gyimah-Boadi provides a detailed discussion on the third election, which accomplished the first peaceful transfer of power from one political administration to another in the Fourth Republic. See E. Gyimah-Boadi, “A Peaceful Turnover in Ghana,” Journal of Democracy 12, no. 2 (2001): 103–117 The need to enhance the credibility of the electoral process influenced a reengineering of existing systems and, especially, a decision to use a hybrid system of manual and electronic processes for the 2012 election.

The 2012 presidential and parliamentary elections took place in an entirely different context than those before them. New laws to govern the registration of voters and the conduct of the presidential and parliamentary elections were promulgated3Public Elections (Registration of Voters) Regulations CI 72 governed the registration process, while Public Elections Regulations CI 75, which replaced all other regulations, governed the conduct of the elections. as the Electoral Commission (EC) of Ghana introduced biometric registration and verification of voters. The introduction of the biometric registration and verification of voters meant that the bio-data of voters such as name, photograph, and fingerprints were captured electronically into the electoral register using computers, digital cameras, and scanners. On voting day, the identity of voters had to be verified using the same technologies, to prevent electoral fraud such as multiple registrations and voting.   The Public Elections Regulation, 2012 (CI 75), which replaced regulations previously governing elections in Ghana, required all voters to go through a biometric verification process before voting, increased the period for transfer of the rights of voters to vote in constituencies other than those in which they registered originally (as a result of relocation to new areas of residence) from twenty-one to forty-two days, and simplified the proof of eligibility by removing the requirement in the earlier CI 15 that a potential voter “make a declaration in the prescribed form that he has not already voted anywhere at the election.”4CI 15 was the regulation replaced by CI 72.  In anticipation of technological failure, CI 75 provided for the adjournment of the poll in the event of equipment breakdown and allowed the adjournment to hold for a maximum of seven days if the situation made the continuation of the poll on the following day impracticable. Finally, the new law required the EC to publish the names of proposed presiding officers at its district offices at least ten days before an election, providing an opportunity for registered political parties or voters who wished to contest their appointment to do so. Among the most significant achievements of the biometric registration was the detection by the EC of persons who had engaged in multiple registrations.5Fourteen million registers were captured during the biometric registration exercise. Of these, eight thousand were double registrations. The adjudicating team set up to establish the intent of multiple registrations established that six thousand were intentional, but two thousand were the result of technical errors. The EC was also able to detect collusion between some of its staff and members of the  public to engage in fraudulent acts, as the biometric equipment revealed that some persons were registered at odd times (such as after midnight) and on days when the teams were not working. This information was shared by the representative of the EC at the colloquium on “Preserving National Security in Elections 2012 and Beyond,” organized by the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre in Accra, Ghana, on October 23, 2012.

The EC launched a text messaging platform for the 2012 elections in addition to the public display of the voters’ register, which allowed voters to check the data they had provided to the EC. The use of text messaging greatly enhanced voters’ access to their data as they did not have to be physically present at a display center to verify their details.

The judiciary also developed structures to address the long delays that had plagued elections in the past. Under the direction of the Chief Justice, the Judicial Council set up two public complaints secretariats—the Chief Justice’s Secretariat and the Office of the Chief Registrar-General—to receive post-election complaints on election-related issues pending before the courts and take appropriate action. The Judicial Service also developed a second edition of the Manual on Election Adjudication in Ghana to aid in the adjudication of election disputes.

Last, to make the electoral environment more secure, the Ghana Police Service established a National Elections Security Task Force. Formed at the national, regional, divisional, and district levels, its purpose was to improve security throughout the entire course of the electoral cycle comprising the planning, organizing, implementing, and monitoring of the elections. To facilitate planning, a special elections secretariat with a designated desk officer was established at police headquarters. The police were charged with providing security to the printing houses where the ballot papers were printed, escorting the ballot boxes from the printing press to the regional and district police commands, and escorting personnel and materials to the various polling stations.

Despite the relative success of the 2012 elections, they were not without challenges. Many of those associated with biometric registration stemmed from inadequate knowledge of the biometric equipment. Most of the non-permanent EC staff recruited to operate the machines also lacked requisite knowledge of information technology (IT).

Another challenge was presented by issues of citizenship and “belongingness” in Ghana that were brought to the fore by events during the registration exercise. A number of variables influence inclusion and exclusion in Ghana, including ethnicity, political party affiliation, and, to an extent, class. The manifestations of the “in–out” dynamics experienced during voter registration were thus not necessarily new, and the instances of violence were symptomatic of underlying tensions that, if left unaddressed, could degenerate further. This is particularly worrying in light of the veiled appeal to ethnic affinity apparent in the campaign messages of the political parties.

In addition to the above, the malfunctioning of some of the verification machines at some polling stations necessitated the extension of voting to a second day. Despite provisions in CI 75 to deal with such occurrences, the uncertainty of the process (especially due to this being the first time the biometric process was used) caused unnecessary anxiety among the voting public. This could have been averted if lessons had been learned from the biometric registration and applied to the conduct of the actual elections.

Another challenge to election security in 2012 arose from the national security architecture of Ghana, where the regional and district security councils are headed by the regional ministers and municipal/district chief executives, respectively. In other words, during elections, strategic control of the security operations rests with the political heads of the regions, municipalities, and districts. Of particular concern was the situation where some of these political heads were also contestants in the elections. To address this, the EC was encouraged to “provide strategic policy direction and leadership, and also assume oversight responsibility of security arrangements provided by the Elections Security Task Force during elections.”6Although this was extensively discussed by participants of the Stakeholders Colloquium on “Preserving National Security in Elections 2012 and Beyond,” organized by the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre in Accra, Ghana, on October 23, 2012, no definite agreement was reached. However, the participants were in agreement that the suggestion for the EC to take the lead on providing strategic level direction to the Electoral Security Task Force should be captured in the final Communiqué. For more on this, see the “Final Communiqué” from “Preserving National Security in Elections 2012 and Beyond.”. The EC however, failed to do so.

One of the most worrying aspects of the 2012 elections was the registration of minors. Despite the measures taken by the EC to avert the “padding” of the voters’ register, minors were still able to get onto the biometric voters register. Even with photographs on the register clearly showing that some of the voters were underaged, the chairman of the commission said he was unable to expunge their names, once again casting into doubt the integrity of the elections.

Overall, if elections in Ghana are to continue to be a tool for sustainable development, better care must be taken to guarantee the integrity of the electoral process. For a start, the EC needs to recruit more competent, technologically literate temporary staff and enhance the IT capacity of its permanent staff. The EC should also introduce electronic voting and counting to minimize errors in results, and it must do more to publicize the electoral regulations so the general public will better understand them. Finally, Ghana must embark on systematic peacebuilding to address the underlying issues of the political exclusion of some groups within its society. The winner-takes-all nature of politics in Ghana means that those who are not members of the ruling party are excluded from power and the distribution of resources and opportunities. Since Ghanaian voters tend to vote along ethnic lines, this exclusion appears to be ethnically based (with adverse consequences), although in reality, it is based on political party affiliation.

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