Source: Africa at LSE blog
Nathalie Raunet Robert-Nicoud
Recurring questions in Ghana about who constitutes the electorate have in recent years turned to the issue of foreign voters. Are people crossing national borders during elections truly eligible? Political parties have begun to exploit the lack of a simple answer, but only when it strategically suits them.
Since its return to a multi-party system in the early 1990s, international observers have praised Ghana’s elections. The process has been peaceful with three alternations of power between the two main parties. However, disputes over the voters’ register and mutual accusations of electoral malpractice have been recurrent. Because elections are based on the compilation of voters’ rolls, these issues point to essential debates about who is entitled to vote.
In the build-up to the December 2016 elections in Ghana, the then opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) claimed that the voters’ register was bloated by more than 76,000 potential ‘foreigners’, who were registered on both the Togolese and the Ghanaian voters’ rolls. The claim cast doubt on the citizenship status of voters who crossed the border from Togo to vote in Ghana. This draws attention to what I call in my research ‘cross-border voting’ – the movement of people occurring between neighbouring countries during elections to register and vote.
The National Democratic Congress (NDC) party, at the time holding a majority government, argued that these individuals were in fact part of the Ghanaian diaspora in Togo, which was why the NDC targeted the area for electoral campaigning. This debate raised an important question about identity that regularly reappears in Ghana before each election: who decides who constitutes the electorate?
Citizenship and the right to vote
Article 42 of the 1992 Constitution states that a voter must be a citizen of Ghana, at least 18 years old and of sound mind. But one is not so easily able to determine who is a citizen.
The citizenship criteria changes according to the constitution under which an individual was born. However, one’s citizenship usually depends on one’s parent’s or grandparent’s citizenship, and under which constitution and criteria their Ghanaian nationality was secured.