By: Mohamed Jaward Nyallay
In March this year, parliament passed a law on early voting. This is the first time the electoral body, Electoral Commission for Sierra Leone, has had a law on early voting. Unlike in other countries where such laws are passed for essential workers on election day, Sierra Leone passed the law for those going for religious pilgrimage.
What is the Context?
Advocacy for early voting started as far back as in February, when the Minister of Social Welfare, Baindu Dassama, raised concerns that 1,200 people performing the Islamic Hajj pilgrimage could not vote because they would be in Saudi Arabia during elections.
ECSL took on major reforms last year when it passed the New Public Elections Act, but early voting was not included.
This year’s election will coincide with Muslims’ visit to Mecca for their religious rites. The annual pilgrimage is important for Muslims in Sierra Leone because the government funds many of those who travel for the expedition.
What is in the New Early Voting law?
This early voting law is specifically for religious pilgrims. Certainly, the first beneficiaries will be the over 1,000 Muslim pilgrims heading to Mecca this June.
To qualify for the privilege, the law states, “He/she is of either Islam or Christian faith who will be out of Sierra Leone on a pilgrimage and would be absent from Sierra Leone on the day scheduled for voting.”
Applicants must be registered to vote and must also be recorded in the district where they are applying for early voting to the Returning Officer, according to the law.
Section 4 of the law explains what happens throughout all the stages, including developing a register for early voters, excluding their names from the main voter register and ensuring the process is not abused by preventing them from voting on the general election day.
A screenshot of section 4 of the law
The new law now means ECSL has a bit more to do. The election has already started, following the conduct and conclusion of Paramount Chief Members of Parliament last week. With three weeks to go, how ECSL will handle this new challenge remains to be seen.
This Public Education Article is a product of the SLAJ/NDI SuperNewsRoom on Combating Disinformation in Sierra Leone’s 2023 electoral cycle. The project is supported by Global Affairs Canada to enable citizens to have access to credible and accurate information during the elections.
The SuperNewsRoom is powered by Africell SL.
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