Liberia: Supreme Court Demands a Copy of 'Final Voter Roll'

.... As Associate Justice Wolokollie it reserves ruling in a request for a writ of Writ of Mandamus filed by the Unity Party and the Liberian People's Party.

The Justice in Chamber of the Supreme Court has mandated the National Election Commission to share copies of the Final Registration (Voter) Roll with the court following a hearing into a separate Writ of Mandamus filed by two opposition political parties.

The mandate by Associate Justice Jamesetta Wolokollie comes after the Unity Party and the Liberian People's Party separately petitioned the Court to compel the electoral body to public release the voter roll, whose accuracy is crucial to ensure the credibility of the October 10 polls.

The roll, which cannot be altered 30 days to an election, except by a Supreme Court order, contains the names, and other important information of registered voters. The electoral body has however not yet released the "voter roll" despite having barely two weeks remaining for the conduct of the October 10 polls.

It has insisted that it is working diligently towards making the list available "in a secured format and available to all stakeholders as soon as possible."

The delay has however been a focal point of contention in the lead-up to the elections -- forcing the Unity Party and the Liberian People's Party, who have now consolidated their lawsuits, to seek a Court order for the timely release of the voter roll, which they argued is a key requirement that would "ensure the credibility of the October 10 elections."

A writ of mandamus is a court order compelling a government official or agency to perform a mandatory duty or function required by law. In this case, the petitioners are arguing that the electoral body's failure to timely make available the voter roll warrants judicial intervention.

During the closed-door hearing yesterday, which lasted for several hours, the petitioners argued that they needed access to the vote roll to verify its accuracy independently.

According to the joint petition filed by the opposition parties, the electoral body is legally obligated, per the New Elections Law and an opinion of the Supreme Court, to publish and provide copies of the voting roll, disaggregated by locations in every electoral district across the country.

They cited the 2023 Voter Registration Regulations, which define the "Final Registration Roll" as a list of registered voters eligible to vote, produced following the exhibition and resolution of voter appeals, claims, challenges, and necessary changes to "the provisional registration roll."

The Chairperson of the electoral body, petitioners noted, had made a solemn commitment to make available the final copies of the voter roll on September 18, during an appearance before the Senate while under oath.

However, the Unity Party and the Liberian People's Party argued that the electoral body had failed to fulfill this statutory responsibility, despite being bound by their oath to do so. The parties noted the unnecessary delay amounts to an irregularity that would undermine the credibility of votes cast on election day.

The electoral body, on the other hand, maintained that they have not broken any law as claimed by the opposition parties. They noted that the voter roll is being prepared and would be publicly released in time before the October 10 polls as it has been done during past elections.

However, the Justice in Chamber, who had listened carefully to both sides' arguments, requested the electoral body to furnish the Court with copies of the voter roll while reserving a ruling on the matter.

The current voter roll saga comes after Afrobarometer reported in April of this year that popular trust in the electoral body remains weak as Liberia prepares for general elections.

Afrobarometer, a pan-African, non-partisan survey research network, shows that only one-third of Liberians trust the Commission to conduct a fair election -- a decline of 10 percentage points since 2018, even though most Liberians express confidence in the secrecy of their ballots.

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