When And How Census Results Can Be Used In Elections


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

December 22, 2004

Dear Fellow Citizens

I am deeply concerned about the present political situation in Liberia, which has made census a necessary requirement before the 2005 elections. Perhaps, two things are happening concurrently; that is, while some might not just understand the application of census results to elections, others are bargaining time to remain in power or both. I am writing this letter to clarify when and how census results can be used in elections.

First, Article 80(d) of the Constitution requires conduct of census before elections. The aim of this is to demarcate the country into election districts of 20,000 persons to ensure fair legislative representation. On the basis of this the National Transitional Legislative Assembly (NTLA) is insisting conduct of census before the elections or use the 1985 formula which is based on 1984 census results that already demarcated the country into 64 election districts. On the opposite, the National Elections Commission (NEC) submitted Elections Reform Bill recommending the use of proportionate allocation of voter registration results and provision of special condition for internally displaced persons (IDP’S) and Returnees to vote in their respective camps.

However, besides the constitutional provision as applied to the uses of census results, let’s also review the uses as outlined by Jacob Siegel et al, because the ambiguity in interpreting the uses had set the stage for the political battle. Census results are legal requirement used to determine the apportionment of representation in legislative bodies and for many administrative purposes. For instance, the results are used to describe the distribution of the population in space, its density and degree of concentration, the fluctuation in its rate of growth, its movements from one area to another, and the force of natality, nuptiality, and mortality within it. In short, the application include public health; local planning for land use, school and hospital construction, public utilities, etc.; marketing; manpower analysis; family planning programs; land settlement; immigration and emigration policy; and many others.

There is no doubt that the roar is over the application of the statement, “census results are used to determine the apportionment of representation in legislative bodies”. As you may be aware, the first census of Liberia was conducted in April 1962 and followed by the second and third in 1974 and 1984 respectively. The results from these censuses set the ground work and by 1985 elections, the entire country was delineated into 64 election districts. Each of these constituencies is represented by a Representative in the National Legislature, thus giving us a total of 64 Representatives during the late Doe administration.

Do we need to re-demarcate the election districts and on the basis of that increase or decrease the number of legislative representation? To me the answer is no. It is well noted that since 1970, censuses have been conducted at regular ten years interval throughout the world; the results are not only for elections, but for other purposes as stated. Even, if census were to be conducted today and election planned for tomorrow, you would still conduct voter registration to identify the eligible voters. Census results therefore only state the approximate number of all voting age population, but not all voting age citizens enumerated in a census can register to vote. By this, voter registration is the appropriate form of identifying the eligible voters. Subsequently, the pre-condition, which is demarcation of the country into election districts, has already been met by the proceeding censuses.

You may argue that fresh census is required because of the time elapse. The serious concern then could be the pattern of population distribution in the country has changed as a result of the war. A large number of the citizens are still internally displaced outside their respective constituencies. Fresh census will indicate sharp increase in the areas where people have sought refuge in disadvantage to their areas of origins. The consequence will be an increase in the number of representation for the migration destination areas.

On other hand, the Article 80(d) itself is very ambiguous and doesn’t elaborate how or when census results should be used. For example, United Nations recommended that census should be conducted in every country at a regular interval of ten years, but our election term is every six years. Does this means our census interval should be fixed at six years or even less to provide the use of the results in every elections? I think exercising 80(d) in totality would disfranchise eligible voters.

Another misinterpretation of the situation was stated by Assemblyman Dr.Clarke. As published in the Africa Internet Magazine, he said, “the districts and clans that were created prior to 1985 elections and brought Samuel Doe to power no longer exist due to the war situation in the country” He is not alone in expressing such view. Are they saying the clans and districts no longer exist on the landmarks of Liberia? For instance, there are no more Zorzor district, Rivergee, Greater or Central Monrovia, Gbe-Doru clan, etc.? If so, where are they or who govern them presently? All these areas are constituencies or part and established through Legislative Enactment and printed into Hand Bill and people still live there. Only the present population size is unknown. Besides, large numbers from there have been internally displaced, particularly in Monrovia or are yet to be returned from exile. In such situation, previous census results are used because the inhabitants are within the borders of the country; and giving the opportunity they will return to their respective constituencies not only to vote but to stay and make normal lives. The IDP’S and Returnees are vulnerable and even need special care and representation than areas that were less affected by the war. Any decision to declare their localities null and void would mean a total disregard to the Legislative Enactments that constituted these boundaries.

Apart from the above complexity, the census process itself requires time and cannot be done before October 2005. For example, you need to map the enumeration areas; indicating the towns and villages as well as the number of structures within them. Even the enumeration stage is not the end; you need the final results which will not definitely be available within the next two to four years.

Secondly, NEC’s Election Reform Bill of proportionate allocation of voter registration results to assign legislative apportionment is simple but difficult application formula and impractical. First, there is an uneven distribution of the population. For example, the Situation Assessment Survey put the population of Monrovia and its environs to about one million inhabitants. Supposed Voter Registration result shows more than one third of the eligible voters for Montserrado County, particularly Monrovia? Would you divide Monrovia into quarters and assign Representatives on the basis of the number in disadvantage to the legal and traditional arrangements where almost every major sectors of the country is represented in the Legislature? Remember, Monrovia serving presently as a major population growth pole is due to the war.

Again, the compromised formula of allocating two seats to a county and the balance 34 be proportionally divided on the account of the voter registration as forwarded by NEC, has no legal and practical basis. For instance, some of the newly created counties were just an election district; hence represented by one Lawmaker.

In conclusion, I agree with the NTLA that the matter be resolved by using the 1985 elections districts and disagree with NEC for the amalgamation of voting precincts or proportionate allocation of voter registration results. The 1985 division was even adhered to during the 1997 elections despites its high level of complexity. After the proportionate allocation, seats allotted to political parties were filled using the 1985 election districts. These legal and traditional arrangements were never even ignored in the complex 1997 elections not alone to be done now. On other side, I agree with NEC’s recommendation that special arrangement be made for the IDP’S and Returnees to vote in their camps. It is well recognized that all the pulling factors such as schools, road network, health facilities, etc. are yet to be rehabilitated in the leeward counties. The IDP’s and Returnees enjoying these facilities in their camps will find it difficult to return to their origins just for elections purpose.

Remember before the modern conduct of census in the country, representation in the House was by clans. These clans have long enjoyed this arrangement; denying then now would cause regional imbalances in the representation.

Finally, I salute you all Honorable Citizens for steering the affairs of the State. It is difficult, but in union strong success is sure. Thank you.

Yours truly,

Sonkarley Tiatun Beaie
UNV- Demographer
Georgetown, Guyana