There were problems in too many places around the country as millions of Liberians lined up in their various electoral precincts yesterday to cast their votes in this most crucial of national elections.
The first problem was the woefully late opening of all too many voting stations. Some, including Montserrado County, opened as late as 2 p.m. or later. One of our reporters said the Duport Road Baptist Church voting station did not open until 12 minutes after 11 a.m.
If this can happen in as freely accessible a county as Montserrado, what about the remote counties such as those in the southeast? What credible excuse can the National Elections Commission offer for this? We think none.
There is then the problem of the late arrival of ballots. At least one radio station announced the late arrival of ballots in some parts of Grand Kru County in southeastern Liberia, conveyed by motorbikes. Whoever heard of ballots ever being conveyed by motorbikes? Just think of the security question. Suppose some of the ballots drop along the way and are picked up by the wrong people? Of course, one would have to trace the problem to the root cause - delays by NEC in the certification of political aspirants a few months back, which delayed the printing and subsequent shipment of ballots into Liberia only days before election day. Thankfully, with the help of UNMIL, some of the ballots were airlifted to the capital cities of hard-to-reach counties, but still needed to be conveyed via the best possible option - motorbike - from those cities to polling centers in the districts of those counties.
There was then the problem of the inefficiency of the queue controllers--people who are clothed with the responsibility to direct voters to the queues they needed to join in order to cast their votes. So many people in various voting precincts became completely frustrated when they unknowingly joined the wrong queue, only to be told when, after standing on line for several hours and finally reached the voting point, that they had been in the wrong queue.
In Haindii, Faumah Chiefdom, Lower Bong County, our reporter found many voters, some of whom had to cross the St. Paul River by canoe at three o'clock in the morning to get to the voting precinct. After standing on line in the wee hours of the morning, some were told at 12:30 p.m. under the baking sun that they had joined the wrong line and had to go and join a new long line, starting at the rear.
One such 'baby ma' was carrying on her back a one and a half month-old infant. She became so frustrated and tired that she sat in the shade of a nearby house, not knowing what next to do. But she was determined to cast her vote before crossing the river homeward.
Why would NEC allow voters to suffer such totally unnecessary hardship? If NEC is not the institution to encourage and ensure that our people cast their votes in the easiest and quickest manner, who then is?
Our Bong County Correspondent Marcus Malayea reported yesterday how angry voters whose names could not be found on the voters roll angrily blocked the main highway from Gbartala to Gbarnga, the Bong capital, prohibiting anyone from passing.
Fortunately, the police intervened, removed the blockade and NEC officials at the voting precinct allayed the fear of the protesters by taking down their names and assuring them that they would be allowed to cast their votes.
These are some of the scenarios that NEC should have anticipated and prepared for long before Election Day and prepared for. One wonders, therefore, what has the National Elections Commission been doing all these years running up to the 2017 election?
The churches, the mosques and the Liberian people as a whole have being praying for peaceful elections. What we had not anticipated or prepared for was the gross and widespread inefficiency and ineptitude on the part of NEC.
This problem now stands to undermine the entire electoral process. Think of all the people who, out of sheer frustration with the process, just got tired, quit and returned home. Think of the grave disappointment of their candidates, presidential and legislative.
How will all this affect the outcome of this election, we all have to wait and see.