Voter Apathy and Inclusivity: The Story of Rivercess and Sinoe counties

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The National Electoral Commission (NEC) could record low voter turnout in the upcoming elections come Election Day on 10 October 2023 in areas such as Rivercess and Sinoe Counties due to the difficulty of physically accessing voter registration centers.

  • Voter turnout in some counties couldpotentially be low in counties such as Rivercess and Sinoe due to the long distance between citizens and somevoting centers.
  • NEC sub-grants to community-based organizations including PwDs have strengthened CVE initiatives in the counties.

Sinoe and Rivercess are in the South of Liberia and have 5 and 3 electoral districts respectively. Aside from the common developmental and infrastructural challenges facing these two counties, there is a legitimate concern that the current state of roads and general access to centers may impact voter turnout. Residents in remote areas of these counties have complained about the miles they have to travel just to reach voting centers. Some citizens met by EISA observers complained that they had to walk between four (4) to six (6) hours, while others had to use canoes to cross rivers to be ableto register during the recent BVR exercise. It is evident that in such circumstances, the likelihood for some citizens, particularly aged persons, pregnant women, and PwDs, may decide the challenge of voting is too great come election day remains high. The campaign period and the election day itself will also take place during the rainy season in Liberia, swellingrivers and rendering already muddy roads impassable at times.

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Accessing a voting precinct is not only physically demanding but also serves as a barrier to citizens not exercising their right to vote. This situation highlights a form of marginalization and raises concerns about equal access and inclusivity in the electoral process. It also promotes voter trucking, a growing challenge, where politicians exploit citizens through the provision of free transportation to centers for registration as well as the practice of voting in exchange for money. The effect of difficult voting center access is also demoralizing for security officers who are already facing the difficult task of maintaining peace and order during the October polls, and little prospect of backup in an emergency.

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The timing of elections in the month of October is an issue raised by international and domestic observer groups in both 2011 and 2017, but the date has not presently been adjusted despite these recommendations. Civil society organizations have raised concerns about the date set for the 2023 elections arguing that this could contribute to low voter turnout if the expected heavy rains materialize. Past experiences in Rivercess and Sinoe suggest that heavy rains will render the roads impassable for many aspirant voters traveling long distances to access the voting centers.

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Despite these very real challenges, Liberians in Sinoe County continue to demonstrate their determination to participate in the 2023 electoral process. EISA observed that Persons with Disabilities (PwDs) have been deeply involved in raising voter awareness during the Biometric Voter Registration (BVR). The National Union of Organizations of Disabled (NUOD) was awarded a four (4) month contract to oversee all civic and voter education in District 1 of the County by the National Electoral Commission (NEC). NUOD used a door-to-door approach, town hall meetings, playing jingles in public spaces, and use of posters across the community. This is the first time an organization of PwDs has conducted CVE in an electoral process in the county. NUOD are hoping for further opportunities and adequate resources to build on their successes in the future. Without NEC’s support, the fine work of NUOD in Sinoe and of many other local civic organizations in Liberia’s 15 counties would not have been possible, highlighting the benefits of deliberate partnership between election management bodies and local organizations in strengthening democracy and elections.

About USAID Support to EISA-IEOM to Liberia: The USAID-funded EISA International Election Observation Mission (EISA-IEOM) Activity seeks to enhance the integrity of the 2023 Liberia Presidential and Legislative elections through the deployment of an independent international election observer mission (EOM) to monitor, assess and report on all phases of the electoral process in accordance with international and regional benchmarks. The IEOM is implemented in close coordination with the financial support of USAID/Liberia and will complement the efforts of other electoral stakeholders.