jhr trained journalist improves voter education in Sierra Leone

During the first round of Sierra Leone’s 2007 presidential and parliamentary election, 7.3% of the 1.9 million votes cast were considered invalid.

jhr-trained journalist, Ibrahim Tarawallie reported at The Concord Times that this number was unreasonably high compared to other post-conflict countries: Liberia at 3%, Ghana at 2% and Iraq at 1%. The National Electoral Commission (NEC) initially claimed that the international standard for invalid votes in post-conflict countries is about 10%, indirectly excusing their responsibility to educate voters before elections.

After Tarawallie’s story was published, numerous publications around Freetown also quoted the numbers found in his article. This led the NEC to promise a more educated voter turnout for the run-off election. In the subsequent run-off election, the number of invalid votes decreased to 2.45% of the 1.7 million votes cast. Read the full original article below

NEC, parties point fingers over invalid votes, Sierra Leone

By Ibrahim Tarawallie

A woman shows ink on her finger to indicate that she cast her vote. (Photo by Danny Glenwright)


The National Electoral Commission and the country’s two main political parties are accusing each other of being responsible for the high number of invalid votes in the recent presidential and parliamentary election. A spokeswoman for NEC has said the two main political parties must take on more responsibility for voter sensitization in the likely event of an election run-off. Miatta French, NEC’s head of outreach and public affairs, said if Sierra Leone’s political parties had spent more time educating voters, there wouldn’t have been as many void votes. “We got them to the polls, but they got there and they didn’t know who to vote for,” she said, noting that she felt that the number of void votes and spoiled ballots was within international standards. “The commission has done a very good job in sensitizing the people on how to vote during the election and that is why there is not much percentage of void votes.”


Out of 1,925,984 votes so far counted, there have been 140,370 void votes, almost eight per cent of the total. With 97.2 per cent of polls reporting, the number of spoiled or void ballots is much higher than recent elections in other parts of the world. French said the internationally acceptable standard for invalid votes in post-conflict countries is about 10 per cent, yet in Liberia’s 2005 election, only 3.9 per cent of votes were found to be void. Indeed, in Ghana’s 2004 election, the percentage of invalid votes was only 2.1 per cent. As well, in Iraq’s most recent election, more than 12 million people voted and only 1.1 per cent of votes were found to be invalid. “In Liberia maybe they wanted to learn,” said French. “Here people didn’t listen, we didn’t have intensive attention.”


Despite the alarming number of invalid votes, French maintained that the problem was due to the political parties, not NEC and said she thinks in the event of a run-off, the choice between just two candidates will make it easier for voters. The spokesperson for the All Peoples Congress (APC), Alpha Kanu, said it was NEC’s responsibility to educate Sierra Leonean voters, not the parties. “Although they have done a very good job in the counting process, they have failed in the area of education,” he said. Kanu said the APC has put mechanisms in place in order to educate their supporters in the event of a run-off because they feared NEC wouldn’t fulfill their educational role. The spokesman for the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP), Victor Reider, said his party is also preparing a voter education campaign around a run-off vote. “This is the first time in the history of this country that we have had such a large number of void votes during the election,” he said. “Which I think should be solved.”


Regardless of potential confusion at the polling station, Aminata Conteh said nothing will stop her from voting if there is a run-off. “I think it is my responsibility to vote if there is any run-off,” said the Freetown student. “I will exercise my voting right.”

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