Salone News

Voting in the Rain: A Ruse or an Incompetent Execution of Election Laws?

22 May 2007 at 10:32 | 894 views


By John Lansana Musa,USA.

The decision by the ruling party - the SLPP administration, to conduct elections in the middle of the rainy season has drawn complaints and speculations over the prudence of that decision. Prof. Jonathan Peters in particular has stirred us to think of the constitutional implications. The present essay examines the factor of voting in the rain as detrimental to voter turnout. The Kabbah administration may assume criticism or doubts about its neutrality or detachment in the electoral process are partisan complaints, but these expressions of doubt are common in the prelude to elections in all democracies. For example, the Carter Center in its "Observation Assessment of the 2001 Zambian Pre-Election Period 13 December 2001," brought to light what the opposition political parties in Sierra Leone are expressing:

"This year’s tripartite elections offer a host of logistical and administrative challenges for all stakeholders. Limited government resources coupled with the selection of 27 December for elections in the middle of the rainy season will hinder, if not stop, elections from taking place in many parts of the country. Valid complaints by election officials at the provincial and district levels regarding lack of resources to meet the logistical challenges to carry out elections during the rainy season appear to have been disregarded by persons in authority."

The Carter Center report further stated Voting Day Logistical Arrangements that may cast a pall on the election turnout in Sierra Leone:

"In every province and district visited by LTOs, electoral staff, opposition parties and citizens have expressed great concern regarding the date of the election as it falls in the middle of the rainy season. In most provinces there are a number of polling stations that will only be reachable by foot and heavy rains will make some polling stations virtually unreachable. A common complaint heard by observers is that the selection of the election date is a deliberate attempt to disenfranchise certain voters."

In light of weather concerns, there may be a ruse here to affect the elections in favour of the SLPP or we can account for this decision in the patent capricious and careless execution of election laws by this administration. As to the careless and whimsical execution of elections laws, the hullabaloo over the Biriwa Chiefdom elections in which the Kabbah administration rode roughshod over the province of the National Electoral Commission is a case in point. Unconstitutionally arrogating election administration to itself, the Kabbah administration affected the outcome of that chiefdom’s paramount chief election to the detriment of the majority of the chiefdom. Now it is seeking to use its unfettered decision-making to prejudice the outcome of the general elections in the middle of the rainy season.

Regarding ill-administration in executive stewardship, it is now a proverb of infamy to say that the Kabbah administration cannot fashion statecraft without bungling it. From the Lome Accord to the Special Court Agreement and now the framing of the election process, we can only say the product ought to be thrown in a bonfire. Many Sierra Leoneans have raised their hackles over the choice of hosting the 2007 elections in the rainy season, keeping in mind this administration’s poor record in statecraft. For instance, the Kabbah administration requested the Law Reform Commission to consider the notion of elections in the rainy season among the terms of reference.

More specifically, Allan Baami Halloway, Secretary, Law Reform Commission advertized on August 11, 2006, the terms of reference including the following:

"Pursuant to the statutory powers conferred on it by the Law Reform commission Act No. 17 of 1994 as amended by Act No.3 of 1996, the Law Reform Commission has been mandated to review the following parts and Sections of the Constitution of Sierra Leone, 1991."

The Commission was to consider among other things: "Dates for Presidential and Parliamentary Elections. Whether flexible to take place during the rainy season will be advisable."

But on August 3, 2006, President Kabbah announced that the general elections will take place on July 28, 2007 even before the Commission has countenanced the proposition of staging elections in the rainy season in its undertaking. Under these careless circumstances or apparent artifice over the date of the elections, the complaints over the decision to conduct elections in the rainy season appear to gain credence. General elections in Sierra Leone have been held in the dry season to take advantage of the dry weather conditions. What actuated the government to ponder holding elections outside the established period of conducting elections without ruminating on how they would affect the electorate? The dry season is a period of rest in the interregnum for the approaching planting season in the rainy season. Once this latter season commences, the majority of the people in rural areas are encumbered and preoccupied with farm work.

What is more, the rains if they are heavy deter some aspects of farming where flooding occurs. The roads are impassable. Vehicles invariably are trapped in muddy trunk and feeder roads. In the postwar broken infrastructure road communication, the considerations for voters outside urban geographical areas without mass transportation to travel on foot and in the rains become more tenuous. In that regard, how does government not know over many years of these weather considerations to contemplate holding elections in the rainy season? Statecraft requires reflection. It cannot be fashioned on a guile or the pragmatism of the ruling party without worry for national implications. Subterfuge with election dates assumes corruption of the electoral process. Careless application of electoral laws lead to disenfranchisement of rural voters.

Now focusing on the kernel of this essay, the choice of conducting elections in the rainy season is said to undermine voter turnout as election studies have concluded from a retrospective of how weather especially rain affects elections. In his book, The Weather Factor (1984), the historian David Ludlum suggests that weather affects voter turnout and that this proposition dates to at least the 19th Century. In their much acclaimed studies on how weather affects elections, "The Effect of Bad Weather on Voter Turnout and Partisan Vote Share in U.S. Presidential Elections, 1948-2000," political scientists Brad Gomez and Thomas Hansford (University of South Carolina) and George Krause (University of Pittsburgh) present some sobering facts which dovetail in our own complaints for holding elections in the rainy season.

In their work, they examine the effect of weather on voter turnout in fourteen U.S. presidential elections (1948-2000). They employed meteorological data drawn from over 22,000 U.S. weather stations and GIS interpolations, providing them with data for each of the roughly 3000 U.S. counties during those elections. Among many of their conclusions, the professors assert what President Kabbah did not contemplate before indulging the National Electoral Commission to stage general elections in the rainy season:

"Our paper puts the weather-turnout hypothesis to the test, and we find the linkage not only to be significant, but sometimes meaningful as well. We have shown that precipitation is a significant predictor of voter turnout, and produces a decrease in county-level voter participation rates just under one percentage point per inch of rain."

If the opposition political parties in Sierra Leone complain that the ruling party which controls the machinery of government and various national resources will use them to their advantage to turnout their supporters while opposition party supporters will unlikely possess such resources at the detriment of staying home out of the impediment of the rains, the study under review underscores that point by saying,

"If the decision to vote on election day is the result of a cost-benefit calculus, and the potential benefits of voting are relatively small, then minor changes in the perceived costs of voting may exert a significant effect on the probability of someone going to the polls. Exposing oneself to bad weather may constitute one such minor cost. For the potential voters for whom the perceived benefits are not particularly great, weather-imposed costs may determine whether the potential voter stays home. This is the logic underlying the oft-repeated conventional wisdom that bad weather depresses voter turnout, a logic that comports well with existing theories of voter participation."

The study presents the obstacles which mar the voter contemplating voting or staying at home from inclement weather:

"there are a number of ways in which bad weather on election day could be considered a cost to be borne by voters. Uncomfortable weather can make waiting in line at the polls a less desirable undertaking. Bad weather might also limit one’s ability to travel. Roads soaked by rain or perhaps covered by snow may make for a somewhat more dangerous journey to the polls. Indeed, the ability to travel during rain or snow may be especially problematic in rural counties, where distances to polling places may be far and road conditions suboptimal (we test this proposition later using a multiplicative model).9 Again, these are not major costs. But for many citizens, the imposition of an additional minor cost may make the difference between voting and abstaining."

The estimate of rainfall over the years in Sierra Leone in all geographical areas has been studied and the choice of elections in the dry season has taken those essential factors into consideration. But the Kabbah administration would rather be adventuresome than reason on how rainfall affects the voter. The following aspect of the measure of rainfall could give pause to a prudent leader to look at rainfall statistics rather than ask lawyers to canvass whether "Dates for Presidential and Parliamentary Elections. Whether flexible to take place during the rainy season will be advisable.".

The study reports why that is so:

"The estimate for the main effect of Rain remains negative and statistically significant. This result reveals that even in completely non-rural counties, rain decreases voter turnout. The estimate for Rain × Rural is also significant and negative, indicating that Rain has an even greater negative effect on voter turnout in rural counties. The main effect for Snow is not in the predicted direction. In fact, a two-tailed test would reveal that snow may actually increase turnout in urban areas. However, the estimate for Snow × Rural is, as we expect, negative and significant. This result suggests that in rural counties Snow does depress turnout.22 In sum, our results suggest that rain lowers voter turnout in all types of county, although this effect is greatest in rural counties. Snow, on the other hand, only deters voters in particularly rural counties."
Furthermore, the study correlates amounts of rainfall with voter turnout:

"To put the immediate effect of rain in perspective, consider that for counties that experienced rain on election day, the average rainfall was approximately 0.16 inches. Returning to the additive model results (which reveal the average effect of the precipitation variables), the average election day rain event decreased a county’s voter turnout percentage by only 0.14%. The rainiest election day experienced by a county between 1948 and 2000 involved 5.5 inches of rainfall (Saline County, Illinois, 1988). This maximum observed rainfall, according to our model, decreased voter turnout in the county by a more impressive 4.9%."

What more can opposition parties say on the gauche and incompetent decision to stage elections in the rainy season given the conclusions of these studies? The only thing now left to consider is how much damage the rains would have on voter turnout as far as this adventure in statecraft folly is concerned. A kindred proposition would motivate the citizens of Sierra Leone to take a regard the danger that looms in a watershed general election in which the ruling party is suspected of artifice in the electoral process to secure its ebbing power.

In that regard, Machiavellian intrigues by ruling parties to stay in power are not uncommon in election process planning. It is the duty of citizens to flinch from such intrigues in elections with so many imperatives for the triumph of the Second Republic of Sierra Leone. The Kabbah SLPP administration is engaged in a ruse which citizens must uncover before unrest returns to our nation again in a wrangle with opposition parties smarting from election problems which directly affect their opportunity to win. We have heard of election corruption in our nation but the most marked is the SLPP-APC grapple for power in 1967. Those elections were riff with election intrigues which led to a military takeover after it was apparent the APC won by a hair but the SLPP would not concede. As the Dove-Edwin Commission of Inquiry concluded after examining every facet of the elections,

"The whole of the [SLPP] Government’s arrangements for the 1967 elections was rigged and corrupt. At all levels, before, during and after the elections this corruption was evident. They were determined to use all means fair or foul to win and remain in office and if all failed to get Brigadier [David] Lansana to take over. On the evidence before us we are bound to say that the APC won the Elections on their own merit"(From Paragraphs 134-135 of the Dove- Edwin Commission of Inquiry Report, 1967).

Forty years have elapsed since the controversy-laden elections of 1967 and we seem to be assured that we have turned the corner on election problems, or so it seems to those who give the benefit of doubt to the current election process. Progress is to be assessed on the continuing practice of the free and fair election franchise within the meaning of upholding the Rule of Law without the caprice of the ruling party breathing down the neck of the National Electoral Commission to adopt its stratagem for election dates.

Heaven forfend we return to the debacle of 1967. It is in that quest of avoiding tumult in elections that must guide the superintendents of our national elections to be mindful of the ruling party’s arrogation of power to fix election dates in the rainy season. While lodging much trust in Dr. Christiana Thorpe and her commissioners, but with conclusions of the Dove-Edwin Commission of Inquiry in mind, the forthcoming elections are still freighted with doubts too many to ignore as we approach election day. In that regard, we must heed the philosopher and poet George Santayana’s warning on the retention of history in his work, The Life of Reason:

"Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained .... Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Photo: Dr. Christiana Thorpe, NEC boss.