Saturday, November 17, 2018
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The Ballot Box 

By Thaddeus Besong Nyenty , ENAP Buea

On November 8, 2000, Bill Clinton said, "The American people have spoken, but it is going to take a little while to determine exactly what they said." He was referring to the American Presidential Election between George W. Bush and Al Gore, which was tangled in mass confusion.

In this way, man learnt the hard way that the ballot box is not necessarily a reliable means of measuring votes, and this proved to be the first of many sadly similar lessons; that law enforcement is not a very effective way to stop hijackers or suicide bombers, that one crafty old zealot can outwit a whole army sent to hunt him down, that engineers don’t always build sound levees, nor bankers issue sound loans.

When this happens, liberty is tied to the train tracks. The ballot box can become a tale of mixed motives and tragic flaws, the vanity of human wishes and the danger of over-confidence in any system or device or idea wrought by mortals. Sometimes a fiasco at the ballot box not only teaches that institutions deliver too little, but also, that we have come to expect too much.
Partisan certification of votes, stuffing of ballot boxes, vote buying, vote rigging, influence peddling, intimidation arrests and other polling irregularities are myriad problems plaguing the ballot box.

But when thousands of votes have been rejected by voting machines and had not been examined by hand, simple fairness demands that "every legally counted vote should be examined". Some people think that the rules respecting the consulting of ballots have to be the rules and procedures in place at the time of election and shouldn’t be changed. The appropriate institutions must work hard to produce reliable results.

Politicians have known that elections are approximations and a certain amount of approximations, and some confusion, error, malfunction and even fraud inevitably creeps into far-flung and myriad polling places. Machines fail, sometimes in subtle ways that aren’t noticed.
The failure of parties, election boards and local Government to test ballot designs, maintain voting machines and teach people how to cast a legal vote and even the scant attention paid by legislatures in examining robust election laws is a cause for concern.

People must not take for granted that nothing bad would happen, which is a luxurious way of living in a singularly fortunate land. Expecting only good things was expecting too much. By failing to prepare for elections, the electorate both encourage trouble and leave themselves few tools when it comes. Disasters (wars, floods, hurricanes, etc) are warnings which are often largely ignored. Elections must be well prepared in advance.

The ballot box is highly controversial especially when opaque institutions like ELECAM are appointed to handle matters. Cameroon’s electoral law isn’t one of the best. Remember Shaw wrote in a subsequent opinion; "All the King’s horses and all the King’s men could not get a few ballots counted."

"The explanation, however, is timeless. We are a nation of men and women and although we aspire to lofty principles, our methods are, at times, imperfect." That is human nature and it will not change – and we would be wise to start preparing for it.

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