Out-of-Country Voting Should be Incorporated into the Entire Voting Process

By Dionysius Sebwe


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
February 15, 2005

It is possible we can surprise the world and compliment ourselves by pulling off our first genuinely democratic election. Other countries have done it, so can we! Things have already started to take shape, especially with the publication of election guidelines. However, there's still more work to be done to ensure overwhelming election success.

Liberians in the Diaspora are watching developments back home and eager to fulfill one of their civic responsibilities despite being thousands of miles away from their native land. It's inexcusable, with the help of the United Nations, United States, and the European Union, that the National Elections Commission will not seriously consider integrating out-of-country voting in the upcoming elections. Cllr. Morris-Johnson's statement, "There will be no polling outside of Liberia and we are sorry that refugees who are not repatriated before or during voter registration, will not be allowed to vote in camps," should be reconsidered. Or as with NTLA, similar pressure should be applied by all Liberians and the international community to make the National Elections Commission reverse course. It is practical to implement out-of-country voting program despite the potential logistical entanglement.

The election guidelines fall short of taking into consideration out-of-country voting (OCV), a program that will ensure most Liberians to actively participate in the upcoming elections despite geographic distances. The International Organization for Migration (IOM), a U.N. affiliate, specializes in overseas voting. It has had remarkably successful OCV programs in Afghanistan, East Timor, Iraq, and Bosnia-Herzogovenia. Already, the fact that repatriation is moving at a slow pace spells some difficulties in the offing. Besides, repatriating thousands of Liberian refugees is an expensive enterprise that may encounter snags along the way.

The National Elections Commission - to alleviate the enormous task of repatriation - should adopt a three-pronged approach by incorporating repatriation, resettlement, and OCV program into a single package. If implemented, we would cut the cost of repatriation and facilitate hassle-free voting. In addition, OCV program will function either as a buffer if 100,000 or more Liberians are not repatriated or resettled by election day, or augment the voting process for all Liberians.

The current trend to use OCV program on an as-needed basis will only complicate the situation during the elections and add to the list of unforeseen problems. The National Elections Commission should do its utmost to enfranchise all Liberians because October election is one of many national priorities Liberia is embarking upon.

Furthermore, this is the time to begin consultation with IOM regarding voter registration to ensure a smooth operation of an OCV program; this is the time to actually engage and research countries with a high population of Liberians; this is the time to appoint a director or task force specifically for overseas balloting; and finally, this is the time to garner all our resources to ensure there are no hiccups or impediments during this historic voting exercise.

Adequate planning will alleviate or eliminate some potential election nightmares, like missing ballots, accidental candidate omission, confusion, mismanagement, irregularities, ballot shortage, etc. Moreover, preparation is key to having a successful election. The three-pronged approach or strategy will enable all Liberians to vote amicably and embrace the final results of the scheduled October elections.

A home-soil election incorporated with a successful OCV program will highlight our fledgling newfound democracy and encourage the international community to fully support our democratic endeavors. This is Liberia's chance to reassert itself and implement the vision of our founding fathers. We owe it to ourselves!

About the Author: Mr. Dionysius Sebwe is former Liberian Lone Star player.