My memories of being a first time voter was way back in the University of Ghana in 2004. I joined other student voters in a rather long and extremely slow queue at the Legon Hall. I was pretty much oblivious of any observers in the vicinity. Infact I was pretty much clueless about how elections in Ghana was typically run and I all I was interested in was whether my vote was going to get my selected Presidential candidate in or not.
Things changed recently when I volunteered to be an observer for Ghana Decides a non-partisan project supported by StarGhana, during this year’s elections. Why? Because I was eager to share photos & videos on Instagram for the world to know what was going on and also to experience what really happens in the field during our elections. I didn’t want to just vote and go home like they tell every voter for security reasons nevertheless. I wanted to be part of the system in ensuring a free and fair election. There was about 12,000 local observers and it felt really great to serve my country in this capacity.
After casting my vote without any probems and eating some proper waakye, I made my way to several polling stations in Osu to start my duties. I must admit I was quite nervous. What if the polling officials turned me away or failed to recognize the Media Accredited Tag around my neck? What if the voters refused to speak to me? Yes I was quite nervous. Everyone was wild. It was a tension-filled atmosphere.
I followed the Observers guidelines -which had been sent to all volunteers for our information- which clearly stated that as an observer I had to see the polling officials first before conducting any duties. I knew one of the men thankfully and after shaking hands I showed him the tag and he gave me a nod. I was in the clear. I didnt have any challenges with any polling officials during my observations. Several voters were either in short queues, sitting under trees whilst waiting for their turn to vote.
I quietly watched out for pregnant, elderly and physically challenged voters to ensure they were given priority and indeed they were. One elderly woman in a wheelchair was wheeled into the booth as she exercised her mandate.
A few elderly Ghanaians got confused as to which box to place their ballot papers and one gentleman tried to place the ballot paper in the box without voting. Several people shouted out to him to go vote first but he was still confused. A polling agent went forward to help him to the voting booth and left the scene before anyone could accuse him of influencing his vote. I think the literacy factor added to the number of rejected ballots which was finally released to be 166,248.
I then interviewed a few voters at each polling station on the voting process. Did they find their names in the Voters Register? Did they experience any challenges? None of them had any difficulty voting and most seem to comment on the high turnout in this years’ election as compared to 2012. My taking of photos and short videos for Instagram involved asking voters if they were comfortable sharing their experience with me via photo or video. Some weren’t comfortable with having their faces photographed so I took photos of their inked pinkies.
In all of the five polling stations I observed at , I received the same feedback; there was no challenges in voting. Even those who didn’t have their ID cards with them still voted as their names were found in the register and the verification machinealso ‘Verified’ them.
My last polling station was Mother Love Hospital in the Adentan Constituency. It was almost 5pm and a few voters were waiting eagerly behind a barricade for counting of the ballot papers to begin. Last minute voters came in at a few minutes to 5 and it was interesting to watch a mini skirmish which occurred with one of the last voters. It was a very interesting fella who wanted to correct his ballot after casting it. Who does that? 🙄 The police present swooped in to calm voters down. One over-excited voter remarked during this skirmish, “Chale, 4 years have passed and we have only one day to make our voices heard. We have to be wild.” That was my first time being in a tensed electoral situation where voters get agitated about any abnormally. I kept my distance whilst filming at the same time.
It was a tension filled moment on Dec 7th and before the election day; everywhere on traditional and digital media, messages of peace and tolerance poured out from religious leaders, corporate bodies, associations, individuals etc. Someone once asked why these messages and peace concerts even happen in Ghana during elections? Why are we so fearful? One guy was interviewed on one of the local TV stations (I forgot which) and he said he was positive that nothing of a violent nature would happen in Ghana during elections. According to him, “ we are too fearful. We don’t like violence. He gave an example of the day of the verdict of the 2012 elections petition. Everyone stayed home that day. The streets were quiet! My response would have been, we love our Fufu too much to fight.
Other observer volunteers for GhanaDecides also conducted their duties at several polling stations across the country. We got reports from the Northern Region, Central Region etc. Some sent in provisional results whilst others also posted photos of voting activities at other polling stations. All this was managed on Whatsapp as our social media group chat platform.
Social media played a huge role during the Ghana Elections. The Ghana Police Twitter accounts were actively tweeting and sharing activities in the field and from their situation room.
— Ghana Police Service (@GhPoliceService) December 7, 2016
The Electoral Commission Twitter account grew from a few hundred followers to thousands within a day after using the platform to tweet out extremely useful information to the electorate as well as tweeting results.
The official declaration of 2016 Presidential Election results: pic.twitter.com/6Uwxfaz0xS
— Electoral Commission (@ECGhanaOfficial) December 9, 2016
I am glad the authorities have now seen the benefits of using social media effectively during elections and didn’t resort to blocking it on the day. Its a Win-win. 😎👏🏾
I didn’t stay around for the counting of the ballot papers at my last stop as there wasn’t sufficient lighting around and for my safety sake, I went home to share photos & videos on social media.
It was an eye-opening volunteering experience being in the field. It felt so real being close to the ‘action’ and having the opportunity to develop my skills in conducting up-close interviews.
Congratulations to all GhanaDecides volunteers and other associations who worked tirelessly during this elections period to ensure accurate and timely information was made available to Ghanaians on social media whether in Ghana and abroad. The whole world was watching us and we once again proved ourselves to be a peaceful nation.