Ghana’s longest-serving Chairman of the Electoral Commission, Dr Kwadwo Afari-Gyan, has said, without having the Ghana card, “Ghanaian citizens don’t lose their citizenship if they are 18 years or older”, adding: “So, the moot question is: why make the Ghana card the only means of identification for purposes of establishing eligibility to register to vote”.
So far, 16,969,034 have registered for the Ghana card and 15.7 million have received it.
The EC, recently said after a series of meetings with the political parties and civil society organisations, it has been agreed among the parties that the Ghana card be used as the sole document for voter registration.
“It was agreed that now that the Ghana card has made a lot of impact in our society – as we speak now, almost 17 million Ghanaians have registered for the Ghana card, so, the Commission, in collaboration with our partners, took the decision that: ‘Now, let’s have the Ghana card as the main requirement’”, Dr Bossman Asare, Deputy Chairman of the EC in charge of Corporate Services, has said.
“So, what this means is that as soon as you acquire your Ghana card, with the continuous registration, you just go to our district office then you go and register then your name will be put on the roll of voters”, he said in an interview on Accra-based Joy News.
His comments came a few days after Vice-President Mahamudu Bawumia hinted at the likelihood of using the card for voter registration for either the 2024 or 2028 general elections.
Dr Bawumia promised Ghanaians at the 2022 Civil Service Awards ceremony in Accra on 29 July 2022 that with the Ghana card and digitalisation drive, “very soon, you’d see that our problems with voter registration would disappear”.
“It’s only a matter of time. If not at the next election then the next election after that because we spend so much on voter registration but once unique identification is determined and you cannot have underage people coming to register to vote and all of that, I think the Ghana card would be a good identification document as we are already seeing so that we sanitise the voter registration system”, Dr Bawumia said.
He noted: “In many countries, once you are 18, you are essentially on the voter register and that is it”.
“There’s no complication to this and going to fight and break legs and so on, as we register to vote”, he noted.
“I mean the system is the system”, added Dr Bawumia, stressing: “If you are 18, you are on the register – simple!”
“And, I think this is where we are headed”, he hinted.
In his view, Ghana has been stuck in the brick-and-mortar model of development, which, in his estimation, has not generated the needed transformation.
Systems, as being put in place by the Akufo-Addo government through the digitalisation drive, are what will transform the country, Dr Bawumia argued, in support of his earlier assertion that he would prefer the Ghana card – which, he observed, is the fulcrum of the establishment of those systems – to 1,000 interchanges.
“A lot of the time, we have, as a country, really focused on brick and mortar for development: build this road, you build this and build that but we have not focused on systems for the longest time but systems and data and institutions are what develop countries, it’s not brick and mortar”, he explained.
“So, these systems that we are putting in place – digitalisation of the various public sector offices and all of that: national ID, mobile money and all of that – is what will transform Ghana; it’s really what will transform Ghana and that is why as we enter the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we have to pay attention to this”.
The Ghana card is a valid verification document issued by the National Identification Authority (NIA) to Ghanaians and resident foreign nationals living everywhere for the purpose of identification.
The card bears personal information about the individuals whose identity can be verified at all times. The NIA National Identity System utilises three types of biometric technology for identification purposes.
These are the fingerprints unique to each individual in the form of digitised templates, and facial templates in the form of a digitised colour photo of the cardholder and the iris.
The card contains basic identification information including a photograph of the cardholder, along with a name, date of birth, height, and a personal identification number that has been randomly generated and assigned to the holder and has an expiry date.
However, Dr Afari-Gyan, who served for 22 years between 1993 and 2015, as EC Chair, told Graphic Online in an interview that fact that the number of people with Ghana cards included those below the voting age of 18, and juxtaposing that with the Ghana Statistical Service’s projection that people aged 18 years and above would hit 19.5 million in 2023, the potential for many people to be disenfranchised as a result of the use of the Ghana card as the only source document for voter registration was high.
“The electorate are the kingmakers. So, a basic responsibility of any electoral commission is to facilitate the realisation of the people's right to register as voters, and not to obstruct that right by demanding for registration purposes documents that are not easily accessible to the people,” he added.
Last month, the EC placed before Parliament a draft C.I titled: Public Elections (Registration of Voters) Regulations, 2021, which is expected to regulate continuous voter registration.
Per the new C.I, which would become law after 21 sitting days of Parliament, the EC is seeking to make the Ghana Card the sole form of identification for eligible voters who want to get unto the electoral roll.
The C.I has been referred to the Subsidiary Legislation Committee of Parliament. By convention, the committee is chaired by a member of the Minority group.
Orders, rules or regulations made pursuant to provisions of the Constitution or an Act of Parliament must be laid before Parliament for 21 sitting days before they come into force.
Any such subsidiary legislations so laid are referred to the committee to determine whether it is in accordance with the general objectives of the constitution or the Act pursuant to which it is being made.
It also determines whether the legislation contains any matter, which in the opinion of the committee should be dealt with in an Act of Parliament; directly or indirectly bars the jurisdiction of the courts; gives retrospective effect to any provision contrary to provisions of the Constitution or an existing Act; involves expenditure from the Consolidated Fund or has a form or structure which calls for further elucidation, among other things.
Even before the EC had laid the new C.I before Parliament, the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) accused the EC of planning to compile a new voter register for the 2024 general election, with the Ghana Card as the only source document.
The Minority Leader in Parliament, Haruna Iddrisu, said any move by the EC to compile a new voter register with the Ghana Card solely as the mode of identification would not bode well for the country, especially when the EC had already expended huge sums of money to compile a new register which was used for the 2020 general election.
The EC debunked the assertion by the NDC and said the new C.I was only meant to regulate continuous registration, with the Ghana Card as the source document.
“We are not compiling a new voter register. The one we compiled in 2020 is a credible one, a very good register so we are not dispensing it,” the Director of Electoral Services of the EC, Dr Serebour Quaicoe, told the media.
Meanwhile, in Parliament, the new C.I laid by the EC caused heated debates, with the Minority calling for the EC to come and explain the rationale for the use of the Ghana Card as the only source document.
At Parliament’s sitting on July 21, this year, the First Deputy Minority Chief Whip, Ibrahim Ahmed, said it was necessary for the EC to brief the House on the new C.I. to erase any “controversial issue of mistrust.”
For his part, the Majority Leader, Osei Kyei-Mensah-Bonsu, rejected the call by the Minority, describing it as premature, adding that the next general election was not yet due.
Another concern raised by Dr Afari-Gyan on the new C.I bothered on the registration centres and registration supervisors for the voter registration exercise.
Per the new C.I, the E.C envisages conducting the exercise from its district offices, with the district registration supervisor and the registration centre supervisor reporting to the regional officer.
To Dr Afari-Gyan, with the proposed arrangement, it meant fewer registration centres as compared to the number of polling stations, a situation he fears could be problematic with regard to the polling centres that will be assigned to the registered voters, and how the voters will know their assigned polling stations.
“One way to dodge this problem is to use a voter register that is not polling station-specific on Election Day,” he said.
With regard to the supervisors, the political scientist and former lecturer advocated that for accountability purposes, the registration reports should not only be sent to the regional officer of the EC, but to the district officer as well, since “the district officers were closer to the registration proceedings in their various districts.”
The former EC boss, who succeeded Justice Josiah Ofori Boateng, who headed the Interim Electoral Commission which conducted the 1992 general election, also faulted the new C.I for proposing two new kinds of voters register, namely electoral area register and constituency register.
Such a move, Dr Afari-Gyan contended, could give rise to multiple voting and ballot stuffing, because the Biometric Verification Devices (BVDs) at the various polling stations were not interlinked to know a voter who had already voted.
“Until such time that the BVDs are configured to be interactive in this way, my concern about any of the two registers being used at the polling station on Election Day is that it opens the door more widely to two kinds of voting infractions, namely multiple voting and ballot stuffing,” he added.