The 2008 presidential election in Ghana was regarded as a shining example of a vibrant democratic process. In a typical multi-party system where two parties enjoy the lion’s share of support, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the New Patriotic Party (NPP) both earned nearly 50% of the votes cast, but neither won an outright victory, which would require 50% plus one vote. Though NPP candidate Nana Akufo-Addo earned more votes than his NDC opponent John Atta Mills, the run-off between the two resulted in an NDC victory for John Atta Mills, earning 50.23% of the votes cast.
Despite fears that this close election, decided by 40,586 votes out of the 9,001,478 cast in the run-off, would lead to political or social conflict and the NPP claim that the NDC tampered with the run-off voting process in the Tain District, the situation remained peaceful, aside from some protests in Accra, and John Atta Mills assumed the presidency. Following the elections, a colloquium on best practices and standards for African elections was held in Accra.
Four years later, Ghana is facing an even greater constitutional moment in relation to the 2012 presidential elections despite its highly methodical and transparent voting procedure.
This year, Nana Akufo-Addo ran against John Dramani Mahama, who succeeded the presidency of John Atta Mills when he passed away on July 24, 2012. Mahama was declared the winner after earning 50.7% of votes cast, obviating a run-off. Akufo-Addo and the NPP again alleged vote tampering by the NDC, but this time with what appears to be much more solid evidence.
The voting process in Ghana proceeds as follows. Voters register with the electoral commission with biometric data. On voting day, registered Ghanaians show up to the same polling station that they registered at and present identification. Representatives of each of the political parties on the ballot staff the polling stations. When the person’s name is found on the voter registration rolls, they move on to the next station where their index fingerprint is digitally scanned. If the scanner finds the fingerprint to match the personal data, it audibly announces “Verified” to anyone within earshot. The voter then moves on to receive their voter card that will allow them to cast their ballot. Once cast, the ballot is placed in a clear container and the voter’s little finger is dipped in indelible ink to demonstrate they have already voted.
When a polling station closes in the evening, the clear ballot box is brought out into the public, and anyone interested may watch as the box is emptied onto a table amidst the counters and votes are tallied. As each ballot is read, the paper is held up to be seen and the vote cast is read aloud. After a polling station has finished tallying votes, they print the results on a white sheet of paper and fax the results to their supervising constituency. A copy of the results of any given polling station is also given to each official working that station. When a constituency (of which there are 275) receives the results of all of their polling stations, that office faxes the results to the Electoral Commissions headquarters, which certifies the results, keeps tally, and retransmits the certification back to each constituency where officials all retain a hard copy.
This process serves to combat fraud and to promote transparency, but it may have not anticipated the most simplistic of fraudulent schemes. Perhaps hubris is setting, for before the Electoral Commission announced the final results, its Chairman Dr. Kwadwo Afari Gyan assured Ghanaians “that no results can be manipulated.” Voting in Ghana was conducted December 7, 2012. Nana Akufo-Addo and the NPP claim that members of the NDC and the Electoral Commission colluded to fix the election by purposefully transposing the digits in NPP and NDC vote tallies in effort to take votes away from the NPP and attribute more votes to the NDC. So, if a polling station actually received 391 votes for the Akufo-Addo and 327 votes for Mahama, a conspiring official would record the tally as 319 votes for Akufo-Addo and 372 votes for Mahama.
To the Ghanaian populace at large, these allegations may not come as surprising. The NDC is the party of Jerry John Rawlings, who assumed power through a coup and has been alleged to have personally tampered with elections as late as 1992. Additionally, some allegations of NDC tampering have been raised in every election since 1992. In a negative light, the NDC is viewed as common thugs donning suits, whereas in a positive light they are a party comprised of the common people, the everyman’s party. The NPP is viewed as the intellectual’s party, negatively spun as elitist and out of touch with the concerns and desires of everyday Ghanaians, and positively spun as an educated lot campaigning against corruption and for the betterment of all Ghanaians.
This scheme was brought to light not by a losing member of the NPP, but by a winning member of the NPP. Adwoa Safo, a lawyer and NPP parliamentary candidate in the Dome Kwabenya constituency ran for office in her district and prevailed, but not by as much as she thought she should have. The Dome Kwabenya constituency is in the Greater Accra region, which has typically been a NPP stronghold. Safo’s protests contended 15,000 votes were subtracted from the NPP, and she successfully prompted the correction of transposition of vote tallies for her opponent in one polling station from 271 to the correct number of 217. These concerns led the NPP to request the Electoral Commission delay announcing results until the allegations were satisfactorily investigated, a request that was denied by the Electoral Commission. The NPP was thus left with the choices of either accepting the result, or taking their case to court.
It must be kept in mind that these are all allegations at this point. Irregularities in voting tallies have been uncovered in the range of 150,000 wrongfully attributed votes in approximately 10% of the regional hubs that have crosschecked records. Circumstantial evidence seems to support the NPP’s claims. Just this past weekend Gloria Akuffo, the leading member of the NPP’s legal team, had her law office ransacked and her computers stolen. At the same time, there is no shortage of opinions that the NPP is unduly causing unrest and panic. The Ghanaian Supreme Court has been put on notice of the NPP’s intent to file a claim, and the case has yet to be adjudicated. The NPP has until December 31, 2012 to submit its grievances to the Ghanaian Supreme Court.
In an election with a high voter turnout (some 80% compared to the U.S.’s paltry 57.5% in comparison), uncovering the truth and dispensing justice may prove more important than the actual result. The sentiment may have been put best in a comment responding to one of the many Ghanaian news articles published on the situation. A user under the handle “TRUE GHANAIAN” writes,
“If the evidence shows that John Mahama stole the votes, he should be severely punished to serve as a deterrent to other crooks in Africa. On the other hand, if Akufo-Addo does not present evidence to show that the votes were stolen, then he should be severely punished for causing panic in Ghana and for deception.” Another concerned raised in the same post relates to the potential to influence or outright bribe the members of the judiciary, but that is an issue that must await the finality of lawsuit, if brought.
While Ghana and the world await the NPP’s next move, and in turn that of the Ghanaian judiciary, the Electoral Commission has confused the matter even more by releasing revised voter statistics. For example, when Mahama was announced to be the winner, the Electoral Commission announced 14,158,890 voters were registered, but the Electoral Commission’s website later stated 14,031,793 Ghanaians were registered to vote.
The human right to vote is facing a potential constitutional crisis in Ghana. The contention that such a dispute will cause irreparable damage to the Electoral Commission is shortsighted, for colluding officials could easily be removed from their posts. One of the major problems in realizing the right to vote is voter disenfranchisement followed by nonenforcement of their rights. The Supreme Court of the United States more or less balked in the face of intervening in the democratic process in 2000 during the Bush v. Gore dispute, which had a terribly divisive effect on American political sentiment. The White House issued a statement on the Ghanaian elections urging Ghanaians to accept the result, but to use legal process to resolve any disputes. This is precisely what the NPP is doing. Whatever any potential decision or remedy may issue, the human rights response would hope that democratic process was not tainted, and if it was that the truth will come to light and that a just response will be delivered.