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Liberian Referendum Plagued by High Number of Invalid Votes

Elections chief James Fromayan says some voters marked both "Yes" and "No" as if it were done deliberately

The chairman of Liberia’s National Elections Commission is expressing concern about the large number of invalid votes in last week’s constitutional referendum.

Elections commission chairman James Fromayan also said results from the last two of the country’s 4,457 polling stations will be announced Monday.

“As we speak, we have results just [about] from everywhere now with exception of parts of Montserrado County, that’s lower Montserrado County, and Nimba County. These are the ones that are outstanding from the 617 polling places that have not yet been checked,” he said.

Liberia Electoral Commission Chairman James Fromayan
Liberia Electoral Commission Chairman James Fromayan

Liberians voted Tuesday on four key propositions in a referendum that some say was marked by low voter turnout.

Proposition 1 seeks to reduce the residency requirement for presidential candidates from 10 to five years, while Proposition 2 seeks to extend the retirement age of Supreme Court and other judges from 70 to 75 years.

Voters were also asked whether to change the election date from October to November.

The commission said 252,320 of the votes cast were thrown out. Fromayan said such high number of invalid ballots is worrisome to his commission.

“When we started to investigate as to what was responsible for the massive invalid votes, we found out that some of the people just went and voted in both columns “Yes” [and] “No,” as if to say it was well-calculated to just swell the number of invalid votes,” Fromayan said.

A day before the referendum, Fromayan admitted there was an error in the printing of one of the ballot papers. But, he said the error would not impact the results.

Fromayan said it would be wrong to solely blame his commission for the large number of invalid votes. He said educating the public on election issues should not be the sole responsibility of the elections commissions alone.

“We expect civil society organizations to also have a significant role in civic education; we expect political parties to also play equally important role in the dissemination of civic education messages. We have our share and we did the best we could with the available resources that we had to ourselves,” he said.

Two-thirds of those who cast ballots in the referendum must agree in order for any of the four propositions to pass. Fromayan would not speculate whether his commission would get the two-thirds majority or not.

With Liberia set to hold presidential election in October, Fromayan said his commission would have no money problem even if voters choose to hold this year’s elections in November instead.

“We have nothing to worry over in terms of our own budget because our budget takes account of also elections being held in November,” Fromayan said.