Why Sierra Leone Urgently Needs Transparent Polling Station-Level Results

by Sierraeye

In its press release dated July 24, 2023, the Electoral Commission Sierra Leone (ECSL) proudly touted its success in delivering one of the most credible, inclusive, transparent, and peaceful elections since the reintroduction of multiparty democracy in Sierra Leone. The ECSL emphasized that 90% of the election’s cost was funded by the Government of Sierra Leone, with multilateral partners supporting civil society and voter education and inclusion efforts. However, the ECSL failed to directly address a pressing concern raised by numerous stakeholders.

The release says there have been “repetitive calls, mostly indirectly,” urging the ECSL to take action outside the scope of Sierra Leonean laws. In reality, these calls have been anything but indirect. They have been clear and direct, centering on the demand for the ECSL to enhance the credibility of the electoral process by releasing results at the polling station level, in line with the laws of Sierra Leone and international best practices. Such transparency would enable cross-verification of results recorded by party agents and observers on election day, fostering public confidence.

Recently, the Carter Center specifically called for ballot box seal reviews and recounts in case of discrepancies between ECSL-announced results and those documented by party agents and observers. The publication of the original Reconciliation & Result Forms, held by the ECSL, was highlighted as another essential step to establish the credibility of the election results.

Yesterday, the Council of Churches expressed concern about the transparency of the election results. The Council noted that there were “overcast clouds” over the results that needed to be cleared. It further noted that “the failure of the ECSL officials to answer questions regarding the procedure at the tallying centers especially with regard to the results form which were flagged for review and why results were published when the tallying was not complete merely heightened the lack of transparency of the process.”

While Section 92 of the Public Elections Act in Sierra Leone outlines the process of compiling and certifying election results, it is vital for the ECSL to recognize the importance of adapting its practices to meet citizens’ demands and international standards. Regrettably, the ECSL asserts that it is not obligated to publish polling station-level results, seemingly disregarding the principles of accountability, transparency, credibility, and honesty that it espouses on its website.

The Right to Information Act 2013 also grants every citizen the right to access information held by public authorities, including the ECSL. Embracing transparency in the form of releasing polling station-level results is not merely a legal requirement but also a fundamental respect for the people of Sierra Leone’s right to information.

Moreover, the Mayor of Freetown’s provision of a detailed breakdown that raises questions about the announced results only underscores the urgency for the ECSL to act transparently. By withholding this crucial information, the ECSL risks undermining its own principles and eroding public trust in the electoral process.

It is essential for the ECSL to be open to constructive feedback and adapt its practices accordingly. By embracing transparency and accountability, in line with international best practices, the ECSL can strengthen the electoral process and restore confidence in the institution. Releasing polling station-level results and adhering to its own guiding principles will demonstrate the ECSL’s genuine commitment to serving the people of Sierra Leone and safeguarding the integrity of the democratic process. Ultimately, it is through these actions that the ECSL can ensure a credible, trustworthy, and inclusive electoral system that truly represents the will of the people.

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