Bong county: Women Boycotted the Referendum to Teach Government a Lesson

Nayquita Yarkpawolo, the Head of the Rural Women United. Photo Credit: Joseph Titus Yekeryan

By: Joseph Titus Yekeryan

Insufficient voter education left many Liberians hesitant to make a “yes” or “no” decision in the national referendum vote organized on December 8, 2020.

Approximately two-thirds of registered voters voting in the referendum cast an invalid ballot, according to official data published by the National Elections Commission (NEC).

“Before the election, we were calling on the big-big people to [change the] time for the referendum but they never listened to us and I can clearly say that they forced it on us. I just left the entire [ballot] paper like that, and I put it in the [ballot] box because I don’t know what was on it,” said NayquitaYarkpawoloTokpah, the President of the Rural Women United for Improved Businesses in Bong county.

Yarkpawolo said that most of her colleagues from the Gbarnga central market, in Bong county, never marked the referendum ballot paper, which she believes will be a lesson for the government to pay attention next time when voters ask to know about what they are voting on.

“We planned this as a group, we only went to vote for our [Senate]candidates but never marked any of those referendum ballots,” Yarkpawolo said the women will continue to boycott elections as long as the government fails to properly teach voters about the referendum and what it means.

The women voters, many of whom have told journalists that they did not touch the referendum ballot paper, cited little or no awareness as part of the reason why they felt hesitant and to make a choice in the referendum and instead folded the ballot paper and placed it in the ballot box unmarked.

Based on current published results from the NEC, only about 30.5% of the registered voters cast their referendum ballot. In Bong County, about two thirds of the referendum ballots were invalid.

Well before the election date, voters across the country expressed concerns that they have not been educated on how to vote in the referendum.

Tenneh W. Tokpah, a visually impaired widow, said that since she asked her son to explain to her what the referendum was and what was she supposed to do, but he could not help either.


Madam Tenneh W. Tokpah, A visually impaired woman Photo Credit: Joseph Titus Yekeryan

“Because of that, when I entered the voting hall since he too did not know about it, I only told him to vote for my candidate and leave the rest of the papers unmarked.”

“I think those who are responsible need to make sure that civic and voter education can be done before this kind of election. This is about the constitution, so you don’t just jump up and start to do your own thing,” Tokpah said.

Nancy Jimmy, a certified nurse in Bong county wants the government to re-organize the National Referendum to enable citizens’ full participation.

“All I can say is that NEC needs to re-conduct the referendum. I am saying that because the decision about the country needs the participation of everyone, and not just a few people since provisional results have already made us understand that there were too many invalid votes, I think it will be important for us to go back the polls and vote again.”

“When that is done, everyone will feel being part of the constitutional decision and no one will feel left out of the process,” nurse Jimmy said.

According to Article 91 of the Constitution states that the constitutional amendments must be validated by “two-thirds of the registered voters, voting in a referendum conducted by the Elections Commission not sooner than one year after the action of the Legislature.”

In this case, two-thirds of the 30.5% of voters that cast a ballot needed to have marked “yes” in order to validate a proposition.

Voters decided on eight prepositions, seeking amendments to Article 28 on dual citizenship, Article 45 to reduce the senators’ tenure from nine to seven-year, and Article 48 to reduce the tenures of members of the House of Representatives from six to five years.

Moreover, the referendum seeks to amend Article 50 to reduce the tenures of the President and Vice President from six to five years, and to amend Article 83 (a) to change the date of the general elections from the second Tuesday in October to that same Tuesday in November.