By S. Kwaku Asare
The Fierce Urgency of Pink Sheet Reform
Our elections will continue to produce absurd results as long as the Statement of Poll and Declaration of Results (SPDR), in its current form, remains the primary and sole source of the collated results.
Affectionately dubbed the Pink Sheet, SPDR is a polling station’s general ledger for reporting, among others, the:
(1) Record of ballots issued to the Polling Station
(2) Record of ballots issued to the Voters
(3) Record of Spoilt ballots
(4) Records of Unused ballots
(5) Records of Rejected ballots (classified into 5 categories)
(6) Range of serial numbers of the ballots issued to the polling station
(7) Numbers of voters on the polling station register
(8) Number of voters on the Proxy voters list
(9) Number of ballots cast for each candidate
On any day, this is a tall list of records to report. It is an impossible list on an election day, where partisanship reaches an apogee. The Pink Sheet is not only needlessly complex but it also invites needless errors and requires the manual entry of information that should be prepopulated.
For instance, column B is to be used to record information on the Voters’ Register and the number of voters on the Proxy Voters List. This is hard information that plays an important control function. However, the information is independent of what happens on the polling day and simply requires the presiding officer to manually record information from the applicable registers. An error here is both needless and meaningless. Column B should be prepopulated on or eliminated from the Pink Sheet.
Likewise, the polling station name and code should be prepopulated. Further, each polling station’s Pink Sheet should be uniquely identified by a machine-readable code. This assures that only officially assigned Pink Sheets can be used for collation and works as an upstream control mechanism when the records are transmitted from the polling stations to the electoral areas and constituencies. Needless to say, there is no valid reason for the Electoral Commission to order multiple Pink Sheets for each polling station. But if there is a valid reason to do so, strict accounting and controls must be emplaced from production to distribution and subsequent usage. The Political Parties must, as a matter of law, be privy to such information and have the option to audit the Pink Sheets’ (as well as the ballots) supply chain.
The Pink Sheet’s Column C is the best example of poor Ballot Accounting. The Presiding Officer is instructed to add a column of numbers (e.g., C1+ C2+ C3+ C4) but is also told that the sum should be equal to a number in another column (e.g., A1). The Presiding Officer will likely record the number in A1 as the sum without doing the summation. Alternatively, if the obtained sum is unequal to the number in A1, the alert Presiding Officer will play with the other numbers to achieve reconciliation. In any event, what are the implications of the sum being different from A1 where “You and I were not there” when the numbers were being recorded?
As another example, the Presiding Officer is required to add up the total number of valid votes (A) and rejected votes from D6 (B) to determine the total number of votes in the ballot box (C). He is reminded that A + B = C. This serves no valid purpose. The total number of votes in the ballot box must be obtained by counting not summation. Requiring a summation, rather than an independent count prior to sorting the votes by candidates, defeats the intended control purpose of C.
Some of the required information are to be recorded on the pink sheet at the start of the poll; others are to be filled in before counting commences and others at the completion of counting. However, there is no mechanism to determine when these columns are actually recorded on the pink sheet. Further, the control function played by this differential timing in recording is largely defeated as the Pink Sheet instructs the Presiding Officer to reconcile latter recorded numbers with earlier recorded ones. Most, if not all, of the information that is currently required to be recorded at the start of the poll should either be prepopulated or recorded on a detachable form that is not available to the Presiding Officer at the close of the poll. This is how the control function can be preserved.
Is it any surprising that even Chairman Afari Gyan has difficulties interpreting the information on the pink sheet? It is essential to simplify and rationalize the pink sheet for the 2016 election. The Pink Sheet must be freed from worthless information and avenues for errors. It must focus on recording ballot information, such as the number of ballots used and returned, the number of blank, spoiled and rejected ballots, and the number of votes for each political party or candidate. Where necessary, this information should be broken down for alternative methods of voting, such as special or absentee voting.
In addition, high quality carbonless paper must be used that allows multiple copies of the Pink Sheet to be distributed to the interested political parties, candidates and the pool of reporters. Finally, the political parties, candidates and pool reporters must be allowed to video record the completed Pink Sheet before it is transmitted to the electoral area.