(A GNA feature by Francis Ameyibor)
Accra, Nov. 17, GNA - Election 2012 is less than three weeks away; very critical on the electoral process is the period between casting of votes and declaration of results.
For the benefit of all, the Ghana News Agency (GNA) spoke to the Chairman of the Electoral Commission (EC), Dr Kwadwo Afari-Gyan for a clarification of the procedures and processes entailed in the polls.
Voting on Friday December 7, by official calculations is expected to start at all polling stations at 0700 hours to end at 1700 hours. The entire Ghanaian voting process takes place in the open. Party or Candidate Agents are allowed to be present at the polling station at all times to observe all proceedings.
At each polling station, before voting begins, the Presiding Officer being the officer in charge, inspects the ballot papers in the presence of Party and Candidate Agents and enters the total number on a form provided for the purpose.
The Presiding Officer also shows the ballot box to the Agents and any persons present for them to ascertain that it is empty, before sealing and placing the box in the open view of the public for voting to begin. For a person to be able to vote, he or she must be 18 years of age or older and must have his or her name in the Voters' Register of the specific polling station.
A Voter Identification Card issued by the Electoral Commission is the normal means of identifying the voter. However, a person in possession of a voter ID card may still be challenged and may not be allowed to vote, but instead be arrested, if it is proved that: He or she is not 18 years old; he or she is not the person he or she claims to be (impersonation); he or she is not a citizen of Ghana; and he or she is attempting to vote more than once (multiple voting).
The process of voting begins after the voter's identify has been ascertained. The Voter's thumb is then inspected to check whether he or she has not voted. Indelible ink is applied to the left thumb and a presidential ballot paper is issued to him or her in the case of the Presidential election.
The ballot paper contains the names of all the candidates, the parties they belong to, if any, and their symbols.
A place is provided for the voter to thumbprint the ballot in secrecy. The place is so arranged that a person can be seen but nobody will know whom he or she voted for.
After casting the presidential ballot the Voter proceeds to where he or she would be given the parliamentary ballot. He or she then moves to another point to thumbprint the parliamentary ballot. The Voter is expected to leave the polling station but could return at the close of voting to witness the counting of the ballot.
Every voter who is in the queue at the polling station before 1700 hours is allowed to vote. The security detail is expected to stand behind the last person at exactly 1700 hours to ensure that nobody votes after the close of balloting.
Counting of the Ballots:
Dr Afari-Gyan told the GNA in an interview that soon after voting ends, the Presiding Officer opens the ballot box in the presence of the Agents and any other persons who wished to witness the counting of the ballots.
First, the ballots cast in favour of the various candidates are sorted into separate batches. Next, the ballots for each candidate are counted audibly one by one.
Dr Afari-Gyan said any Agent, who is not satisfied with the counting can ask for a recount and the Presiding Officer must count again. Finally, once everybody is satisfied with the counting, the Presiding Officer records the total for each candidate against his or her name on the Results Form for the polling station.
"He or she then signs the form which is also countersigned by each Agent present to certify that the results recorded on the form truly reflect the ballots cast at the polling station," the EC Chairman stated.
The Presiding Officer publicly announces the results there and then; and each Agent is given a signed copy of the Results Form to take to the party or candidate that appointed him or her.
It is to be noted that once the results of a polling station have been certified this way, the ballot papers are not counted again anywhere, Dr Afari-Gyan stated.
Declaration of Results:
Every constituency in Ghana has a number of polling stations. So, even though each polling station declares its own results, obviously the overall winner of the election in the Constituency cannot be known until the results from all the polling stations in that constituency have been added up.
For this purpose, each Presiding Officer submits a copy of his or her Results Form to the Returning Officer, being the officer in charge, at the Constituency Collation Centre.
There, in the presence of the candidates themselves, or Agents appointed by them or the political parties, the Returning Officer, assisted by two deputies, collates, adds up the results for each candidate from all the polling stations in the constituency.
Here again any candidate or agent not satisfied with the collation can ask the Returning Officer to add up the results again and the Returning Officer must comply.
When all are satisfied with the collated results, the Returning Officer signs the results form, which is then counter-signed by the Candidates or their Agents, each of whom gets a signed copy of the results.
The Returning Officer there and then publicly announces the results and declares the winner in the constituency.
"In the case of a presidential election, the whole country is taken to be one constituency, so the separate declarations of the winner in the 275 parliamentary constituencies cannot be the end of the road", the EC boss said.
As in the case of having to add up the results of the individual polling stations in order to be able to declare the constituency winner, the results from the 275 parliamentary constituencies have to be added up in order to declare the winner of the presidential poll.
There are two stages in this process. The Regional Director of the Electoral Commission in each region in the presence of the candidates or their agents, adds up the scores of the candidates from the various constituencies in the Region in order to determine the overall winner in the region.
The second stage is to send the regional results along with the constituency results to the Electoral Commission's Head Officer in Accra where they are added up and the overall winner declared by the Chairman of the EC.
Three things are particularly noteworthy from the description of what happens from the voting period through the counting of the ballots to the declaration of the results of the elections.
The process leading to the declaration of the final results of the elections, presidential or parliamentary, are thoroughly decentralized and transparent.
In the case of a presidential election, the results are first declared at the more than 20,000 polling stations, then at the 275 constituency centres and next at the 10 regional capitals before they are finally transmitted to the EC's Head Office in Accra.
In effect, the Electoral Commissioners in Accra are the last to see the results and cannot, therefore, alter them.
The arrangement is such that a well-organized political party or candidate should be able to know the outcome of the elections long before the Commissioners in Accra announce the final results.
Thus, a candidate or party can add up the scores and challenge the authenticity of the results declared by the Commission if they do not tally.
Since the results can be verified at various stages all the way down to the individual polling stations, the EC and the public at large have a right to demand concrete proof of any allegation of doctoring or cooking up election results.
December 7 is most certainly a day of destiny, as it will show the one to lead the nation for the next four years. It behoves on all Ghanaians to go out there and cast their ballots peacefully and return to their homes to await the outcome at the close of polls after 5 o'clock in the evening.
More importantly, it is hoped that the contesting political parties, their candidates and supporters who are key players in the process would be prepared to accept in good faith the certified results declared by the EC to avert any post-election dispute that could lead to an outbreak of violence. Let every true citizen resolve to preserve the nation Ghana, for it is larger than any one political party or candidate.