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Election underscores Ghana’s democratic reputation

Voters sat and waited yesterday in Accra, three hours after biometric identification machines had broken down.
Gabriela Barnuevo/AP
Voters sat and waited yesterday in Accra, three hours after biometric identification machines had broken down.

ACCRA, Ghana — Voters in Ghana went to the polls on Friday to select their next president in a ballot expected to mark the sixth transparent election in this West African nation, known as a beacon of democracy in a tumultuous region.

Proud of their democratic heritage, residents of this balmy, seaside capital trudged to the polls more than four hours before the sun was even up, standing inches apart in queues that in some places stretched 1,000 people deep.

By afternoon, some voters were getting agitated, after hitches with the use of a new ­biometric system caused delays at numerous polling stations.

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Each polling station had a single biometric machine, and there was no backup if it failed to identify the voter’s fingerprint or if it broke down.

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At one polling station where the ­machine had broken down, a local chief said he had barely moved a few inches. ‘‘I’m 58 years old, and I’ve been standing in this queue all day,’’ Nana Owusu said. ‘‘It’s not good.’’

Late Friday, when it became clear that large numbers of people had not been able to vote, the election commission announced it would extend voting to a second day. ‘‘Elections remind us how young our democracy is, how fragile it is,’’ said author ­Martina Odonkor, 44.

This nation of 25 million is, however, deeply attached to its tradition of democracy, and voters were urging each other to remain calm while they waited to choose from one of eight presidential contenders, including President John ­Dramani Mahama and his main challenger, Nana Akufo-Addo.

Polls show that voters are ­almost evenly split over who can best deliver on the promise of development.