The chairman of Liberia’s national elections commission says Tuesday’s constitutional referendum was successful despite an error on the ballot papers.
In one of the amendments, voters were supposed to choose between 70 and 75 years as retirement ages for Supreme Court justices. But, the ballot papers listed the two choices as 75 and 75.
Voters also decided whether to reduce the number of years that a presidential candidate must have resided in Liberia from 10 to five years.
Elections commission chairman James Fromayan blames the situation on a printing error. He says the error will have no impact on the results of the referendum which he says are expected in two weeks.
“It was a printer’s error on the symbol which really did have any negative impact on the question as posed, and so, to me, it was not much of an issue except for those who are trying to blow things out of proportion. The question here is this; do you want the retirement age of Supreme Court judges to be increased from 70 to 75. So now, with this symbol in printing, they put 75 and 75 which had nothing to do with the question itself,” he said.
Liberia's main opposition party, the Congress for Democratic Change, called for a boycott of the vote saying the proposed changes would make it easier for President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to retain power.
Senator Jewel Howard Taylor, wife of former President Charles Taylor, who is also chair of the Senate Electoral Committee, had called the referendum ballot confusing. She says, days before the referendum, the ballot lacked clarity.
But, Fromayan said Howard Taylor and others were confused by their own design.
“The question says. ‘Do you agree for the residency clause to be reduced from 10 years to five years?’ So, if you say 'yes' that means you’re going for the five years; if you say 'no' that means you are retaining the 10 years and there’s no confusion,” Fromayan said.
He denies his commission waited until referendum day to tell the voters about the ballot error.
“That figure 75 appearing is something that we had a disclaimer to begin with. Besides that, we also educated the poll workers so that they explain to the voters, because you will be increasing something from 75 to 75, that’s not an increment,” Fromayan said.
Some local media reported poor voter turnout in parts of the country saying many voters were confused about what they were voting for. But, Fromayan said the referendum went well without too many complaints from voters.
“I went to Lofa [in northern Liberia]. I voted there and voters were not complaining except those who have seen this process go through successfully and they just want to look for something. So, I think to us, it is a major success,” Fromayan said.
Fromayan said the Election Commission is simply carrying out what had been enacted by the Liberian legislature.
“The referendum came from the legislature. It came from the lawmakers. We are not the ones that advanced this proposition. We are only carrying it out as a result of the action of the legislature,” Fromayan said.