What Votes Count? On Voter Fraud And Intimidation [An African Election]

It all came down to Tain. In An African Election, the results of the 2008 were decided based on multiple run-off votes. Each time, the paper ballots were painstakingly counted and verified, and there was much discussion about not disenfranchising the elderly and those who did not have formal identification.

But times have changed.

The decision was made to upgrade the voting process from the fingerprint model to a complex biometric system and is being rolled out nation wide. Officials are ferreting out multiple registrations and asking citizens to come forward and assist with the process.

Registered voters also received voter ID cards and are informed that they will not be able to vote if they are not on the national register.

Debates about what is required to vote are tough ones–on one hand, there needs to be a checks-and-balances system that ensures that people can’t game the process. On the other hand, throwing up barriers tends to reduce people’s willingness to vote. And the requirements can be quite strict. During the registration period, would-be voters had plenty to remember:

Prospective voters would have to show their old voters identity cards, passports, national identity cards or National Health Insurance cards.

People without any of these must be accompanied by two registered voters who will vouch for their nationality and age.

Ghanaian birth and baptismal certificates cannot be used.

Some political party operatives are angry, believing the registration drive has been mishandled; the Electoral Commission has refused to extend the deadline.

There is no easy solution for this kind of problem–the issue of managing elections plagues every country. In the United States, conservative groups are using the ghost of the ACORN scandal to anoint themselves “poll watchers” to root out voter fraud. While their stated intentions are to prevent election fraud, these groups produce the same effect as Ghana’s “macho men”–intimidating voters at the ballot box. As Brentin Mock reports for Colorlines:

Expert after expert has refuted assertions of widespread voter fraud. In Florida, only 10 cases of a non-citizens who may have voted have been found, according to University of Florida elections expert Dan Smith. Colorado’s Gesssler regularly sells stories about masses of people double-voting and literally dying to commit fraud—so much that even their corpses vote. But a News21 investigation found just 16 cases of double voting or voter impersonation since 2000 in Colorado, and just one conviction in 2008.

There have, however, been ample complaints about True the Vote intimidating voters. During Wisconsin’s recall election, students complained that True the Vote volunteers harassed them. The group’s regional director Erin Anderson told me the charges were false, but acknowledged that they couldn’t account for every volunteer they had in the state. “We had an online training, but a lot of people participated in it,” said Anderson. “We know who they are but we don’t know where they ended up.”

The complaints were significant enough that Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board, which is responsible for state election activities, issued a statement saying “in recent elections we have received disturbing reports and complaints about unacceptable, illegal behavior by observers. Voters expect a calm setting in which to exercise their right to vote.” True the Vote took it personally.

The tensions increase when citizens consider how the Voting Rights Act is the subject of new debates in the Supreme Court. While Ghana is still piecing together their national standards for voter enfranchisement, it is worth wondering if the Electoral Commissions actions will lead to lawsuits, and if Ghana’s Parliament will be able to craft new legislation around election rights after December 7th.

Related:

Biometric voter registration to start on march 2012 [Modern Ghana]
EC to release names of people engaged in double registration [Electoral Commission of Ghana]
EC project to register 13 million voters this year [Joy Online]
Register ‘biometric’ or lose your vote – Afari Gyan [The Ghanian Times/Joy Online]
Press Statement: NPP on provisional voter register exhibition [Joy Online]
EC will not extend exhibition of biometric voters’ register [Joy Online]
How the Right’s Building a ‘Poll Watcher’ Network for November [Colorlines]
Texas’ Road To Victory in Its Decades Long Fight Against Voting Rights [Colorlines]

An African Election will make its US premiere on October 1st on WORLD.