Voters purposefully boycotted the recently-held National Referendum because according to them they did not understand what they were voting for.
This was the overwhelming message delivered by voters taking part in a post-referendum community forum held in Weala, Margibi County, organized by the Liberia Media Democratic Initiative (LMDI) on 9 December 2020.
Papa Sumo, a resident of Weala, said the Referendum ballot was confusing to him, and it took him a while to understand what he needed to do, indicating that he checked “yes” to reduce the tenure of the president, representatives, and senators, but he voted “no” to the proposition requesting to move the national elections date from October, rainy season, to November, dry season.
Sumo wants elections continually held in the rainy season because he says he wants politicians to experience the poor road condition outside Monrovia when campaigning.
“I also voted yes for dual citizenship, because I have brothers and sisters in other countries, and they have children. And maybe someday, they will think of coming back to Liberia, because they are Liberians,” Sumo explained his vote on the dual citizenship proposition.
Lauren Sangbeh, another voter, said at the polling station, she was given a long paper, which she now understands was the Referendum ballot, but stated that because she had no prior knowledge as to what to have done; she just folded it and dropped it in the box without any markings.
Daddy J. Bokarie said that he knew there was a National Referendum, but other than that, he was unaware of what it means. He said he only felt comfortable to vote “yes” for the dual citizenship proposed amendment, and all the others received a “no” vote because from him because according to him he did not fully understand the implications.
It can be recalled that Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe, President of the Liberia National Bar Association (LNBA) asserted in December of last year that the Referendum propositions were not clearly worded and even members of the LNBA found difficulties understanding the full legal implications if they were to become part of the law.
“The framers of the Constitution intended for the people to be informed of any proposed amendment to their Constitution one year prior to the day of voting, in order to be adequately informed.” And because the government failed in their duties, the vote resulted in a high number of invalidated ballots, he added.
Another voter in Margibi, Sam Junior, who literate, still voted “no” across the Referendum ballot’s eight propositions because according to him he felt uneasy about what they meant, stating that he cannot imagine how difficult it might have been for unlettered people.
Junior claimed that even National Election Commission (NEC) staffers, who conducted some awareness ahead of the polls, were not fully prepared to answer voters’ inquiries regarding the conduct of the National Referendum.
As for Melvin Scott, an NEC staff, who served as Ballot Box Controller (BBC), he disclosed that he voted “no” to all propositions also because he did not understand what they meant.
Blessing Blamo, another voter said that she asked the NEC staff for advice on what to do with the long referendum ballot, and claims the staff told her to read it and do whatever she understands that she needs to do.
“I opened the referendum ballot paper and got confused, and later folded it and placed it in the ballot box because I did not know anything about it, so I did not vote on any of the propositions,” Blessing further told the forum.
Moses Campbell Dennis, a party observer, said the Referendum was improperly organized, noting that especially since there is a high rate of illiteracy in areas outside of Monrovia.
“From where I was assigned on December 8, I observed that the entire hundred plus persons that voted did not vote on the Referendum. I just hope that more awareness will be done in the future so that the people can have knowledge on what they are voting for,” Campbell added.
In an exclusive interview on December 18, Tola Thompson Adebayor, Solicitor and Regional Director of the Regional Watch for Human Rights Incorporated (RWHRI), claimed that the government imposed the Referendum on the people.
Cllr. Adebayor said a National Referendum is a good thing, but the people needed to be sensitized, noting that high number of invalid votes recorded during the Referendum election is a clear indicator that voters were not educated ahead of the holding of the Referendum.
As at the time of going to bed, NEC official data states that of 61,400 ballots cast in the National Referendum on 8 December, more than half of said ballots were invalid, while less than 25% of all ballots were marked “yes” for the various propositions.
This article was produced with support from Internees Liberia through the Liberia Media Development Program.