".......Liberians living in the United States (lying somewhere in the range of 75,000 to 160,000 depending on whose figures one is willing to accept) represent a significant portion (2.5-7% ) of the Liberian population. When other countries are taken into consideration, it is easy to conclude that there is close to 10% of the population, if not more, permanently residing outside the country..."
Liberians are ten months away from the greatest opportunity in the history of the country to transform the national agenda and set the course of history for the nation. It is imperative that all Liberians, within reason, be a part of this decision making process.
The Right to vote is a Constitutional Right – and the history of the nation is marred by this Right being denied, corrupted and infringed upon. This generation will hopefully see a reversal of this in the 2005 General and Presidential Elections - monitored and watched by the international community.
Liberians living in the United States (lying somewhere in the range of 75,000 to 160,000 depending on whose figures one is willing to accept) represent a significant portion (2.5-7% ) of the Liberian population. When other countries are taken into consideration, it is easy to conclude that there is close to 10% of the population, if not more, permanently residing outside the country.
This is a too significant a constituency to disenfranchise particularly, when this constituency is certainly the most affluent, represents a significant portion of the brain drain on the country, and will be relied upon by the candidates for political capital.
I have had the opportunity to discuss the idea of providing Liberians in the U.S the opportunity to vote with a number of colleagues and herein outlines a number of reasons these colleagues believe that is not a good or achievable proposal. I have also presented a counter argument to the main reasons:
- The cost of conducting external elections is expensive and the Elections Commission may not want to underwrite it. Liberians in the U.S. certainly recognize the additional expense and a simple registration fee can apply in the registration process. The centralization of the process (at the Liberian Embassy in Washington, for example) for both registration and voting will curtail the expense and the fee will absorb the additional cost resulting in the exercise being underwritten by Liberians and will not result in additional financial burden on the NEC and our international partners.
- Some Presidential Candidates/Political Parties are against it. The simple questions is Why? Are such candidates or Political Groups opposed to ALL Liberians having the right and opportunity to vote? We have to recognize that the years of political carnage directly resulted in the mass exodus of Liberians with the significant number of Liberians finding themselves permanently residing in the United States. For any group or individual to begin to take the opinion that “if you want to vote you need to be in Liberia” is tantamount to those who attempted to use the ‘residency clause’ against individuals wishing to seek political offices.
- Liberians wishing to vote should go home. Let’s be realistic. The cost of returning to Liberia is too significant just for the opportunity to vote. Liberians would much rather pay a $50.00 or so voter registration fee to the Liberian Embassy in D. C. and congregate there to cast ballots. Also, the opportunity to vote in Liberia will require two trips to Liberia – one to meet the registration deadline and another to participate in the elections - unless one is willing and able to stay the entire period. The reality is that most Liberians are not opportune to make such a sacrifice – both for personal and financial reasons. One presidential candidate said it well – “If any Liberian who was my supporter came to me and said he/she will travel to Liberia to cast a vote for me, I would tell him/her, to give me the money he/she would spend on the ticket because I would rather lose his/her one vote and use the money to get 20 votes in Liberia.”
-Lack of Control by the NEC. There is no logical reason why the NEC would or should lose its control in the exercise of elections held at the Liberian Embassy. The NEC, centrally located in Monrovia, will be overseeing hundreds of pooling stations around the country – the Liberian Embassy, for electoral puposes, will be just another polling station.
- Increased opportunity for fraud. Appropriate controls, in the registration process, the conduct of the elections and ballot-counting, will ensure that the Liberian Embassy polling station is at no greater exposure to election rigging. There is no reason why similar procedures which reduce fraud and provide transparency in the process in Liberia cannot be implemented here in the United States.
- Increase cost to candidates. This argument stems from the realization that if Liberians in the U.S were to vote, it might become essential for candidates to campaign in the U.S. This is certainly true. But let’s not forget that most of the presidential candidates were stumping around the U.S anyway last summer – perhaps to raise funds to spend in Liberia. It is certainly hoped that such candidates – will infact present themselves to the voters for consideration. But let’s not forget that many democratic countries provide the opportunity for absentee voting. It becomes the responsibility of the voters to pay attention to the candidates at the home base in arriving at an informed decision regarding their vote. There is no doubt that if Liberians were to have the opportunity to cast their votes, not only will they take advantage of that opportunity, but many of those who seem not the be interested in the political process – particularly since they seem not to have an opportunity to be a part of it - will begin paying attention. Greater attention will result in greater access to capital for the candidates.
I think perhaps the greater question – which should be the determining factor – is to what extend is the 2005 Elections disadvantaged if Liberians residing outside the country are permitted to vote? My belief – subject to a convincing argument against, is that there is no such disadvantage and that instead, the opportunity maximizes the right of Liberians to be a part in this political transformation process.
Hopefully the National Elections Commissions (NEC) might give the thought some consideration.