As a concerned citizen and a firsthand witness to the last election campaign by the Somaliland political parties and the voting of Somaliland people on the Election Day in November 2017, let us address the missed and mistakes in iteven though it is not an exaggeration to firmly believe that it was conducted in a free and fair manner. Many sovereign states enjoying recognition of world governments in Africa and elsewhere and many nations with huge fiscal revenues have never managed to showcase such stunning election as termed by the international communities.
Yet, it cannot be absolutely assumed that Somaliland had a flawless election. This review points out the inadvertent errors occurred before and after the election with suggestions indicating how they can be corrected to eliminate or at least minimize their effects on future elections and to boost the confidence of the public in the electoral system and missed opportunities for its improvement.
Usually, perfect elections are rare in any part of the world but it is in the best interest of our young nation to set straight our electoral system by avoiding unintended mistakes and disputes arising thereof, and in doing so would tremendously aid our quest for international recognition as sovereign state.
In the following areas much better work is possible to be done and there is a huge room for improvements:
1. Voter Education
Televisions and Radio Stations in Somaliland used to air programs aimed to educate the people on how to cast their votes in the presidential election, but majority of the registered voters don’t own or have easy access to TV sets and Radios. For this reason, the youth must have been mobilized as volunteers in their neighborhoods by the Somaliland National Electoral Commission (NEC) to run door to door campaign of educating about the basics of election and vote casting, similar to what was done by some of the youth who were involved in the campaign of their political parties. This is only an issue in the case of presidential election but not for the parliamentary and municipality elections because there is an overwhelming number of candidates in these elections and each one normally makes an effort to reach the voters
2. Election Commission Workers
In the last presidential election, the number of polling stations in use was 1642 nationwide, and they were staffed with election commission employees and representatives from national political parties. There were at least in each station 4 election employees. The majority of them were university students who have no prior knowledge and experience for this work. Therefore, this election should be a lesson for us to correct this type of mistake.
In each region, there are universities that can be utilized to train thoroughly the electoral staff. Before the election, about month or two they must attend refreshing courses and classes relevant to the conduct of elections. They should be taught:
2.a Value of Citizenship
The electoral worker should be able to value and understand the importance of the work that he/she is doing and must realize his/her civic responsibility to be a national duty that strengthens the democracy. Also they must be familiar with the electoral laws of the country.
2.b Leadership Qualities
The polling station staff must be aware of and taught the qualities of leadership. He/she must be a self-starter that can function and make swift decisions with little guidance. At each polling center, there were 4 workers representing election commission: Head person, Vice Head person, Secretary and Verifier. The head person and his vice are the two persons who are in charge of the polling station and therefore should be leaders who can solve any issues that might face them. At the same time, electoral personnel must always learn from their predecessors, and copy their best practice and how they approached the obstacles they encountered.
At the end of the refreshing courses, they must be screened by answering small set of questions to find if they are qualified for the task, and award a certification to those who demonstrated to be competent. At the same time, there are a lot of experienced former election workers who deserve to be given the priority when hiring for elections.
3. Political Party Representatives
Some of the representatives for the political parties in the polling stations nationwide were also young people who were only interested in receiving the allowance offered but cared less about the party and its candidate. Hence, they were preoccupied with their cell phones and neglected the main responsibility.
As large number of voters do not read and write, they were calling for help to have their candidate of choice be marked for them, and head person of the election employees was entrusted to do that with the oversight of party representatives making sure the voter’s selection is honored. Absence of this layer of security gave head persons an opportunity to vote for his candidate.
Common sense dictates that if you want to represent something, you need to be a part of it. Political party representatives must be members of the party and must go through the same refreshing courses suggested for the election commission staff. In the municipal and parliamentary elections, the representation should not be based on the candidates running but rather on the political parties because this may create a dilemma of too many observers if candidates are allowed to bring their own.
4. Leaking Vote Estimates
In western elections, there is a practice known as exit polls to predict who is leading the votes. It is done by the news outlets in way of interviews with the voters as soon as they cast their votes and exit. Somaliland public and politicians are not yet ready for this practice because of the absence of institutions necessary for this type of reporting.
The polling stations’ staff whether from the election commission or from the political parties have mobile phones or can easily gets access to them. Lack of strict code of conduct and standard operating procedure at the polling stations allowed commission workers as well as party representatives to privately leak vote estimate counts of the precincts while the voting was still underway along the party-line. This created hopes and assumptions that were not accurate at party headquarters. And later, as official results being different from earlier ones came in from the same precincts, suspicions and doubts surfaced in many circles of the national political parties. Curbing of such reports must be done by not allowing personal mobile phones into the polling places and setting standard operating requirements.
5. Biometric Scanners in Election Day
Biometrics of Somaliland voters, such as face pictures, iris images, fingerprints, and demographics, were captured and saved in servers during the time of voter registration.
Biometric scanner is a device that identifies people based on their captured fingerprint, eye iris, voice, or hand. So there are different types of biometric scanners depending on the method they are using to detect the identity.
Although biometrics is considered to be one of the safest ways of identification, one of these two scenarios is possible where forged cards bearing the names of legal registered voters are attempted to be used or registered voters giving away their cards to some other people that look like them to use for voting in the absence of biometrics verification. Such type of voting fraud has not been reported or suspected in the recent presidential election, but it could happen in future elections.
So, some people argued that IRIS scanners should have been available in all voting sites to verify accurately the identity of voters, but doing so could have cost the government a fortune when the number of polling sites stands at 1642. On the other hand, portable fingerprint scanners that can eliminate this type of voting threat are cost-effective and can be easily made available to all polling stations. Also, CCTV (closed-circuit television) is another cheap option that can be utilized for monitoring polling sites.
6. Boarding & Lodging on Election Day
Electoral commission employees had to travel from their home regions in order to work in a distant different regions on the Election Day for almost 20 consecutive hours. The vote casting runs between 6am and 6pm and it takes another 4 hours to count the vote as soon as the polls get closed. In many parts of the country, the voting locations are in rural areas where there is no close shelter and boarding.
Therefore, considering the obligation on their shoulders, election workers must be taken care of during their travel to their destinations and on the Election Day. They must reach the polling sites assigned to them one day before the election and their lodging and boarding must have been already arranged to efficiently discharge their duties without worries. In rural sites, camping tents with plenty of dry food can be erected next to the polling locations.
Somaliland Electoral Commission (NEC) overall accomplished a great superb job and deserve respect, honor, and congratulations from all of us. They must remain around until the next elections slated in early 2019 are over. Finally, it is incumbent on them to consider all the recommendations and suggestions offered by the concerned citizens for improving our electoral system and strengthening the trust of public in it.
Oakland, California USA
Somaliland First Initiative
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