How Ghana Is Using Social Media to Promote Voter Registration
Ghana’s general elections are coming up this December, and to help streamline the voter registration process, the country is now implementing its first-ever biometric voter registration — in other words, using fingerprint technology to help verify identity. Ghana is also using social media to publicize the process, correct misconceptions and increase overall attention about the upcoming elections.
The non-partisan project Ghana Decides, launched on March 24, “aims to foster a better informed electorate for free, fair and safe 2012 Elections using online social media tools.” It’s an initiative under GhanaBlogging, which itself is a membership-based platform to connect bloggers both in and outside of Ghana who write about the country.
Getting potential voters to participate in the high-tech fingerprint scanning technology is a huge initiative for Ghana, and it’s costing the country $45 million. Other countries in Africa, including Nigeria, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo, have already implemented similar voting procedures. These countries share Ghana’s frustration with disputes about election results, which come largely due to problems such as people voting more than once.
Using fingerprint technology to verify identity would help ensure that those who can vote are voting, and that they do so only once. But issues still remain. Many people are concerned, for instance, that the high-tech tools might cause cancer, a fear which Ghana’s Electoral Commission (EC) has been quick to disclaim.
Those fears are in part what prompted EC to broaden the scope of the voter registration education campaign. As Daniel Amertey Shah, one of Ghana’s Municipal Chief Executives, said in an interview with Ghana’s Daily Graphic, “They thought it necessary to summon the assembly with the motive of ensuring that necessary information on the biometric voters registration is disseminated for the electorate to be also educated.”
That’s where Ghana Decides and its outreach efforts on social media come in. The project’s organizers are using Tumblr (which serves as the project’s home base), Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr to put the spotlight on the voter registration process, which started on March 24 — the same day Ghana Decides officially launched — and ends May 5.
On Twitter, Ghana Decides is promoting the hashtags #iRegistered and #GhanaDecides to aggregate media about registering and speak out about the entire initiative. The #iRegistered campaign, in particular, is aimed at encouraging more people to register by sharing the experiences of those who have already been through the process:
The Ghana Decides Flickr account has more pictures of freshly registered voters with their brand-new voter I.D. cards, and its Facebook account combines pictures with articles and other media. Meanwhile, the organizers are using YouTube to feature interviews with voters as they register, and show what exactly the entire process is like.
The project does have some potential caveats, however, and Ghana Decides acknowledges them. The low level of internet penetration in the country raises concerns over just how much the online campaigns will affect voter registration turnout. But Kinna Likimani, the Project Lead of Ghana Decides, said in an official press release that projects would first be conducted offline, then promoted online to ensure that as many people are reached as possible.
However, part of the point of the online campaigns is to educate Ghanaian citizens about “the effective use of social media for social change.” An estimated 1.2 million Ghanaians are on Facebook, out of a population of about 24.4 million, according to public data from the World Bank. At just about five percent of the country, this is a tiny fraction, but the majority of those who are on Facebook are between the ages of 18 and 35. According to Likimani, it’s time for political parties, independent governance institutions and civil society organizations to actively engage with these online users.