By Foday Moriba Conteh
During a Press Conference held on Saturday 24th June, 2023 at the Brookfields Hotel on New England Ville in Freetown, the National Election Watch (NEW), which is duly accredited by the Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone (ECSL) to observe the 2023 presidential, parliamentary and local council elections has issued a situational statement report on their observation and incident reports filed by 98% of NEW PRVT observers on the set up and opening processes as of 2PM on election day.
Reading the press statement, the Chairperson of the National Election Watch, Marcella Samba-Sesay, said NEW trained and deployed more than 6,000 observers in the whole country and that out of these, 750 observers were specially trained and deployed in sample polling stations across all the 5 regions and 16 districts in Sierra Leone using the Process and Results Verification for Transparency (PRVT) methodology.
“PRVT is an advanced and proven election monitoring methodology that utilizes scientific sampling to accurately assess what is happening at all polling stations nationwide. In implementing this methodology, NEW draws on its experience in successfully executing PRVTs to observe the 2018, 2012, and 2007 elections, which provided an accurate assessment of Election Day processes and results” she revealed.
Marcella Samba-Sesay maintained that the situational statement is based on observation and incident reports filed by 98% of NEW PRVT observers on the set up and opening processes as of 2PM on election day and in addition, it also includes incidents reported by NEW’s regular observers across the country.
She noted that NEW has so far observed the following that so far, all its observers had access to their assigned polling stations and polling stations were set up in a manner that allowed both observers and party agents to observe the process.
The Chairperson disclosed that in 88% of polling stations, NEW observers reported that there were queues outside their polling stations at 6:30am and in 75% of polling stations, observers reported that there were no campaign materials present within 400 yards of the polling station.
She maintained that 55% of polling stations had at least 7 polling officials present and 96% had at least one woman polling official, furthering that additionally, in 22% of polling stations the presiding officers were women.
“NEW observers reported that nationally, 84% of polling stations opened by 8am. 93% of polling stations opened before 8am in the Eastern region, 94% in the North and Northwest, 96% in the South, and 59% in the Western region. Incidents of late opening of polling stations were higher in the Western region, where 41% of polling stations were not open as at 8am,” she noted.
Marcella Samba-Sesay said that 91% of polling stations had all sensitive voting materials available at opening (voters register, voting booths or screens, ballot boxes, ballot box seals, ballot papers, indelible ink) but said however, 9% of polling stations had at least one of these voting materials missing, with higher rates in the Western Region and13% of polling stations didn’t have a tactile ballot guide.
She said that in terms of accessibility of polling stations to voters, 75% polling stations posed access challenges to people with disabilities and the aged because voters needed to use steps to enter the polling station, adding that in 99% of polling stations had at least one party/candidate agent present at each polling station, APC party agents were present at 83% of polling stations, SLPP party agents were present in 93%, 42% of polling stations had agents present who represented other parties, and 12% of polling stations had agents of independent candidates.
The Chairperson pointed out that since the polls opened, NEW has received and confirmed 12 critical incident reports from its observers which includes late opening of polling centres as a result of incomplete or unavailable sensitive materials, missing data of voters: where names and details of voters with voter cards or slips are not found in the register, unavailability of validation stamps in polling stations etc.
In conclusion, NEW called on ECSL to respond to centres that have not opened and also, equally asked them to resolve issues of voters with IDs whose names were not on the register.
Marcella Samba-Sesay stated that NEW will continue to observe the voting, closing and counting and results processes and keep the public informed periodically on the key observations and findings.