By Yusef Taylor, @FlexDan_YT
The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) released a “Provisional Statistics of Voters Registered” on June 7th 2021, indicating that almost 200 thousand voters cards have been issued from 29th May to 4th June 2021. The registration period started on 29th May 2021 and is set to conclude on 11th July 2021. If this rate of issuing 191,509 voters cards in the first week is maintained, the IEC will register at least 1.14 million voters over 6 weeks.
The high turnout in week one is highly welcomed despite the numerous challenges facing the Voters Registration process such as faulty machines leading to downtime in registration, suspected registration of non-Gambians and minors, the issuance of Attestation Forms by the Banjul Mayor and competing groups of 5 Elders at registration centres.
Strong Start for Voters Registration
The statistics issued by the IEC for the first week indicates that almost 28 thousand more women have registered than men. The total number of registered women are 109 thousand compared to only 81 thousand men. This means that 57.3% of registered voters are women compared to 42.7% of male voters.
The administrative area with the most registered voters is Brikama with 31.7% of the total registered voters so far, followed by Kanifing with 23.7% of all registered voters. Women continue to dominate the Voters Register and this is most pronounced in Brikama were almost 8,500 more women registered than men.
On the other end of the spectrum, Administrative Areas with the lowest registered voters are Banjul with 3.5% of all registered voters so far, followed by Kerewan which accounts for 5.1% of all registered voters in the first week. The strong start is quite encouraging given the numerous challenges in the first week due to faulty machines, long queues and long waits. However, with 191,509 voters cards issued in the first week, the IEC is set to register at least 1,149,054 voters if this rate is maintained over six weeks.
Bijilo Bantaba Experience
From my personal experience of registering at Bijilo Bantaba I first visited the registration center to observe the registration process on Sunday 30th May 2021 around 2 pm and left without registering around 4 pm. When I arrived the Registration Staff were on lunch break with a large crowd gathered and waiting for their return. After the lunch break, I spoke to the Registration Supervisor who revealed that faulty machines lead to downtime on 29th May 2021 (the first day of registration).
Registration Staff took almost 30 mins to set up the computer, printer and to issue the first voters card after their lunch break. Having waited for quite a while the applicants at Bijilo Bantaba started to agitate and complain about the “slow process”. I eventually left the registration center after two hours of observation concluding that I couldn’t secure a voter’s card on the same day as the registration center was due to close at 5 pm.
On June 3rd I returned to Bijilo Bantaba Registration Center at around 9 am in the morning and after going through the process I was issued with a voter’s card by 1 pm the same day. Even though the process was slow it can be seen that the elderly, physically challenged, sick and pregnant women joined a priority queue where they didn’t have to queue as long as physically abled-bodied voters. By the time that I returned I had observed one improvement in the rotation of Registration Staff lunch breaks eliminating more downtime.
Week One Challenges
During week one a number of challenges were noted by the general public including downtime resulting from faulty machines, collective team breaks, suspected registration of non-Gambians and underage voters, concerns of competing groups of 5 elders at registration centers and the Banjul Mayor’s issuance of Attestation Forms instead of the Alkalo or Seyfo as mandated by Law.
According to section 12 of the Elections Act 1996 which the IEC Chairperson’s speech made reference to on 28th May 2021 “one needs to provide one of the following documents to be registered as a voter: 1. Valid Gambian Identity Card, 2. Gambian passport, 3. Birth Certificate, and 4. Attestation from Alkalo or Seyfo.”
However, it’s understood that the IEC has mandated the Mayor of Banjul to issue Attestation Forms as the City of Banjul doesn’t have a Seyfo or Alkalo to issue Attestation Forms. However, this has been frowned upon by other Political Parties and Civil Society Advocates who argue that the issuance of Attestation Forms should not be conducted by individuals contesting for Political Office. On Saturday 5th June 2021 some 100 Gambians in Banjul protested against the Banjul Mayor issuing Attestation Forms to applicants looking to secure a voters card.
At Kerewan one Lady Councillor by the name of Michelle Gomez told Gainako that competing groups of 5 elders from rival political parties were issuing attestation forms to people in her community. This issue was also raised by the IEC Chairperson, Alieu Momar Njie when he reported to the National Assembly’s Joint Committee of the Regional Government and Lands, Ombudsman and IEC and Human Rights and Constitutional Matters on 21st April 2021.
Speaking on the proposed Elections Bill 2021 which should repeal and replace the current Elections Act 1996, Hon Dabo of Brikama North asked the IEC Team to explain the reasoning for the removal of attestation by 5 Community elders. In response, the IEC Chairperson explained that the use of 5 elders used to lead to conflict as different council of 5 elders were formed and issuing attestation forms. Instead, it was agreed to avoid such confusion by delegating it to the Alkalou or Seyfos only.
On the issuance of voters cards to suspected minors, the public has been vigilant in posting unverified pictures of minors applying for voters cards. However, there are ethical issues surrounding the publication of pictures of minors online. In the absence of confirmation of the date of birth, it must be noted that the Electoral Act 1996 dictates the IEC to issue voters cards to anybody providing the necessary documents.
However, such suspected cases of minors securing voters cards should be monitored closely and noted as any illegal voters can be purged from voters register if pursued at the revising courts. There has been a lot of rumours surrounding non-Gambians being issued voters cards. The same process applies here where all Party Agents and Observers should take note of such persons who have been issued voters cards to be purged from the voters register via the court system.