Senate Takes on Reforming Election Laws

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The Plenary of the Liberian Senate has mandated its Joint Committee on Autonomous Commission, and Judiciary to draft legislation that will lead to an amendment within the Election laws of Liberia.

The Plenary action was triggered on Thursday, April 29, 2021, based on a communication from the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Cllr. Varney G. Sherman.

Sen. Sherman has written that August body stating that there is a need to take certain remedial actions so as to avert what he considers as a Constitutional crisis in the pending 2023 Presidential and Legislative elections.

“I wish to give credit to Senator James Biney and Jeremiah Koung of Maryland and Nimba Counties respectively whose remarks at their respective induction ceremonies stimulated my intellect about these specific issues” Cllr. Sherman said.

“As to the election for President and Vice President of Liberia, our experience with three (3) circles of elections (2005, 2011 and 2017), where there was a run-off election for each, it is highly that there will be a run-off election for the 2023 Presidential election”.

According to Senator Sherman, given the increasingly high number of political parties and requirement that the Presidential election is determined by an absolute majority (minimum of 50% plus 1), the evidence from those previous elections convince him that there will be presidential election disputes in 2023.

Accordingly, he added that it is his personal experience as a Lawyer who litigated past presidential election disputes, that the procedure at the National Elections Commission is that a complaint is investigated by a hearing officer and an appeal from the decision of the hearing officer may be taken to the Board of Commissioners, and an appeal may thereafter be taken to the Supreme Court.

In order to expedite the disposition of a presidential election dispute, Cllr. Sherman proposed that the New Elections Laws be amended to provide that the Board of Commissioners shall have original jurisdiction over presidential election disputes and an appeal from a decision of the Board of Commissioners shall lie with the Supreme Court.

Furthermore, he said, for a presidential election dispute the entire Board of Commissioners, not a subordinate NEC Staff, albeit it a Lawyer, shall be the forum for the first hearing. Something, Sen. Sherman says would shorten the length of time to dispose of a presidential election dispute.

“Now, for a legislative election dispute or a dispute which arises from any other election, I propose an amendment to the New Elections Laws to provide that a hearing officer (an NEC staff or other designated person, such as an Associate Magistrate from the Judiciary) shall serve as a hearing officer; and a decision from the hearing officer shall be appealable to the Board of Commissioners, and thereafter to the Supreme Court.

“I also propose that for Legislative elections, once the NEC has certificated a candidate to be elected person based on the ballot counted and announced by the NEC, that person should assume the position for which the election was held pending adjudication of any complaint which arises from that election,” he said.

Following an extensive debate of Senator Sherman’s communication, it was voted upon that the Joint Committee on Autonomous Commission and Judicial draft a Bill growing out of his proposal and report to the Plenary of the Senate on May 11, 2021.

The Joint Committee’s draft law will determine the proceedings of the Senate for amendment of the New Election Laws of Liberia.