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Home » Elections and Governance

Citizen Election Observer Groups: The Experience of the Coalition of Domestic Election Observers (CODEO)

Submitted by on 25 Nov 2013 – 15:03

By Dr Franklin Oduro, Project Manager, and Theodore Dzeble, Communication Officer, CODEO


The Coalition of Domestic Election Observers (CODEO) was formed in the lead up to the 2000 presidential and parliamentary elections in Ghana. Established, under the auspices of Ghana Center for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana), CODEO is currently the largest domestic election observer network in Ghana. It is made up of 40 secular, faith-based, not-for-profit, and professional organizations. CODEO emerged out of the need to mobilize Ghanaian citizens to participate in the electoral process as a confidence-building mechanism and to promote credible elections in Ghana. CODEO’s formation was also to complement the efforts of Ghana’s Electoral Commission in ensuring transparent, free, fair and peaceful elections in the country.  Since 2000, CODEO has independently and impartially observed every general election in Ghana. The Coalition has also observed local government elections and political party primaries.

In carrying out its mandate, CODEO has set out the following set of objectives: promote free, fair and transparent elections; prevent electoral fraud; encourage citizens’ participation in elections; promote issue based electoral campaigns and; lend credibility to electoral outcomes. CODEO’s comprehensive election observation activity involves pre-election, election-day and post-election observation. CODEO uses three major methods in its election observation activities.

First, CODEO recruits and trains its election observers from its pool of membership for deployment during election years. These trained, dedicated non-partisan observers are deployed to a representative national sample of constituencies and polling stations to observe the electoral campaign processes, voting and counting as well as the general post-election reactions and activities of stakeholders.

Second, CODEO’s observation method is the collation, analyzing and dissemination of reports generated from field observations. For the pre-election exercise, CODEO observers submit weekly reports which are analyzed and key findings shared with election stakeholders and the public every month. On polling day, CODEO observers use the SMS method to collect information on the conduct of voting, counting and tabulation.

The third and final method is the use of Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT) methodology. CODEO introduced Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT), also known as Quick Count, in its Election Observation beginning with the 2008 elections. Using statistical principles this methodology allows the deployment of observers to a statistical sample of often several thousands of polling stations who through SMS rapidly send in reports on the voting and counting process. Through this process of deployment, CODEO is able to verify the accuracy of the total valid vote count as may be declared by the Electoral Commission.

CODEO’s Structure and Management

CODEO has four principal institutional structures through which its election activities are implemented. These structures are: CODEO Advisory Board, CODEO General Assembly; CODEO Sub-committees; and the CODEO Secretariat.

The CODEO Advisory Board is the highest decision making body of CODEO. It is a fifteen member group chaired by two of the most respected public servants in Ghana in the persons of Justice V.C.R.A.C. Crabbe, currently Statues Law Review Commissioner at the Attorney General’s Department and Professor Miranda Greenstreet, Member of the Governing Board of the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) in Ghana.

CODEO General Assembly is made up of representatives from the 40-member organizations. Members of the general assembly attend meetings at regular intervals to discuss and review CODEO activities and make proposals for consideration by the Advisory Board.

CODEO has three main sub-committees: Drafting; Logistics and Procurement; and Recruitment, Training and Deployment. These sub-committees are activated during elections to help in the planning and preparations for CODEO election observation.

The CODEO Secretariat is responsible for the day to day planning and programming activities of CODEO. The Secretariat is headquartered at CDD-Ghana which provides institutional, technical, and human resource in the management of CODEO programmed activities.

CODEO and Ghana’s Election 2012

The Coalition’s most recent observation exercise was towards Ghana’s 2012 Presidential and parliamentary elections. As in this and the 2008 elections, the Coalition trained and deployed election observers drawn from its member organizations to observe the pre-election, Election Day and post-election events.

Ghana’s 2012 general elections were the sixth since the return to constitutional democratic governance. Undoubtedly, after five successful elections with two alternation of power between the two major political parties, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the New Patriotic Party (NPP), the 2012 polls served as another test for Ghana’s political and state institutions as well as a challenge to its democratic credentials.

Ghana’s 2008 general elections were touted as generally credible and peaceful by both local and international observers. The clean conduct of the polls, which was won by a razor-thin margin by the then opposition party (NDC) and the subsequent peaceful alternation of political power (for the second time) confirmed Ghana’s position as a beacon of hope for the development of democracy in the Sub Saharan Africa. However, the conduct of the 2008 polls also highlighted significant political, institutional, and technical capacity gaps, which resulted in extreme political tensions, and in some cases, violence that nearly moved Ghana into the ranks of African nations afflicted by poll-related debacles.

Informed by these negative realities, CODEO mounted a comprehensive observation project which sought to mobilize citizens as poll watchers to ensure that the elections are peaceful, and generally credible. CODEO launched its election 2012 project under the theme: “Ghana Election 2012: Civil Society intervention Toward Peaceful and Credible Election” in March 2012. Under the project, three broad activities were implemented, spanning all the three phases of elections (before, during and after). The pre-election phase included the deployment of more 600 of its members to observe and report on the innovative Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) registration exercise conducted by the Electoral Commission (EC). In addition, CODEO deployed 50 long-term observers to observe the activities of election stakeholders in over 100 constituencies from the 275 constituencies for 6 months. These 50 observers submitted weekly reports which formed the basis of CODEO’s seven pre-election statements issued between 7th May and November 2012.

On Election Day CODEO deployed over 4,500 trained observers to observe voting, counting and results collation. Out of this number, 3,999 were stationed at sampled polling stations in all the 275 constituencies, and the remaining served as roaming observers. Following the polls, CODEO deploy 25 of its observers in 25 strategically selected constituencies throughout the country to undertake a post-election observation. By extending the observation process beyond the 7th December polls, CODEO was able to track the post-election environment, actions and inactions of political actors and public institutions in the manner aimed at maintaining political stability.

On election day on 7th December and for the extended voting on 8th December 2012, CODEO set up its Observation Center at the Kofi Annan International Peace Keeping Training Center (KAIPTC) in Accra where it received information by text messaging (SMS) from its observers. The data was captured by trained data staff into a database, and the data so generated was then analyzed by the team of analysts, and processed for the media and other stakeholders. The observation Center was opened to the media and the public throughout the election period. Based on this information, CODEO provided the public, political parties, the EC and other stakeholders with systematic nation-wide and accurate information on the conduct of polling. Between December 7th and 9th, CODEO issued five statements, covering midday situational, close of polls, extended voting, and preliminary statement on the conduct of polling and counting of votes.

In disseminating its election observation findings to reach wider and variety of audience, CODEO made use of social media platforms, mainly twitter and face book, in addition to other multiple sources of communication channels, such as the print and electronic media, domestic and international media, the CODEO website, as well as partnership with several social media organizations including GhanaDecides and GhanaWeb to reach a global audience.

For the second time in succession, CODEO employed a statistically-based Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT) method of domestic election observation. This method helped CODEO to be able to assess the quality of voting and to independently verify the accuracy most especially of the presidential results, something CODEO did in 2008. Based on a national PVT sample of 1500, CODEO was able to independently verify the 2012 Presidential elections. CODEO’s PVT presidential results estimates, accounting for margin of error, were consistent with the official results as declared by the Electoral Commission. In all 275 constituencies in Ghana, CODEO’s PVT estimates largely confirmed official results declared by Ghana’s Electoral Commission.

CODEO is respected for its non-partisanship and objectivity. The Coalition has a track record of credibility built around its work since establishment in 2000. This and the reputation of the Coalition’s Co-Chairs, spokespersons and the team of influential Advisory Board Members have given it legitimacy among Ghanaians. CODEO provides regular briefings and updates on election activities to the civil society election sector group made up of donors, civil society organizations, public institutions and other election stakeholders, both domestic and international. The Coalition has also engaged political parties, and security agencies, among others on various election-related issues. Furthermore, although independent, CODEO has worked with Ghana’s Electoral Commission cordially since 2000. This has built a sense of collaboration which allowed the two bodies to share information on critical matters. The reward is mutual as they regard each other as partners of election administration in Ghana.