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Electoral Commission faces resistance over new voter registration requirement

Ahead of Ghana’s crucial general elections in 2024, the electoral commission is proposing a constitutional change that will make a controversial national identity card the sole document for confirming one’s nationality and age to register as a voter. However, this move is being strongly opposed over fears that many citizens will be disenfranchised.

Citizens without the Ghana Card will not be eligible for a voter ID card according to the proposal introduced to parliament by the election management body.

The commission says it will no longer rely on an age-old guarantor system where a registered voter could vouch for the citizenship and age of a prospective voter.

“The challenges with the guarantor system are two-fold: it opens the door for registered voters or guarantor contractors to guarantee and vouch for persons who are less than 18 years. Secondly, it allows the guarantors to vouch for persons who are not citizens. Such unqualified persons use the guarantor system door to try to get onto the register,” EC chairperson Jean Mensa told parliament at the end of February.

This proposal is being fiercely resisted not only by opposition parliamentarians, but also some members of civil society over concerns that it could disenfranchise many eligible voters.

Not all citizens have the Ghana Card due to the limited capacity of the National Identification Authority to print numerous copies daily.

Long queues and network challenges have continued to frustrate the Ghana Card acquisition process, drawing public scepticism about the practicality of waiting to get the card in time to register as a new voter ahead of the upcoming elections.

As of 3 March 2023, over 17.3 million cards had been issued. Estimates from the National Identification Authority based on Ghana’s latest population census suggest that about 2.5 million people aged 15 and above are yet to be registered to receive the card.

“The registration process for the Ghana Card has been characterised by several difficulties, including logistical constraints… Therefore, making the Ghana Card the sole requirement for voter registration cannot be accepted as it will deny millions of Ghanaians their right to register and vote,” minority leader Cassiel Ato-Forson tells The Africa Report.

His side has taken a strong stand against the proposal, which makes it unlikely to get parliamentary approval.
However, Osei Kyei Mensah Bonsu, the leader of government business in parliament insists that the proposal will make Ghana’s electoral roll more credible.

“Over the years different identification documents have been used to establish citizen¬ship, but gradually and one after the other, the Commission has peeled off some of these instru¬ments of identification… It doesn’t mean those identifications were taken out to restrain the right of citizens to vote,” he said at a press conference.

Civil society groups like IMANI Africa have already indicated their reservations about the proposal. Since the Electoral Commission made public its intention late last year, IMANI and other civil society organisations have been actively campaigning against the new proposal.

Imani’s vice president Bright Simons described the proposal as “illogical”, arguing that the EC cannot insist on only accepting the Ghana Card when the registration for it was done using other documents that prove citizenship, such as birth certificates and passports.

“The speaker must prevent that CI from being laid until passports and other valid proofs of citizenship are allowed. Also, any system acceptable for obtaining the Ghana Card is also made acceptable for voter registration,” Simons said.

The Centre for Democratic Development, an Accra-based civil society group, holds the view that the EC’s proposal is too sudden and may deny many citizens the right to vote.

To resolve the problem, it suggests a combination of the Ghana Card and the use of guarantors until there is confirmation that all eligible voters across the country have received their Ghana Cards.

“Making the Ghana Card the sole identity document for registration of voters, when acquiring the card still presents significant challenges for large numbers of Ghanaians… Keep the Ghana Card as the primary form of identification but allow holders of the Ghana Card to guarantee or vouch for the identity of others under penalty of perjury,” the group said in a statement.

The electoral commission is of the view that foreigners and minors can easily sign up for a new voters identity card hence the need to tighten the requirements for registering someone onto the electoral roll.

According to EC Chairperson Mensa, some 40,000 names were expunged from Ghana’s electoral roll before the 2020 elections. The proposal to use the Ghana Card as the sole identity document for new registrations, he says, will ensure that more unqualified persons do not get onto the register in the first place.

Ahead of the 2020 elections, the EC introduced a similar proposal that generated massive disapproval.
Ghana’s 2024 elections slated for 7 December are crucial to both the NDC and the NPP and the passage or otherwise of the controversial constitutional instrument could have direct consequences on the outcome of the polls.

While the Ghana Card issue remains on the parliamentary agenda, there has been no set date to deal with concerns – a possible strategy by governing party MPs in order to ensure it will be a part of the electoral process.

By Jonas Nyabor for The Africa Report.

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