The Elections Coordinating Committee (ECC) said, it welcomed the use of Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) for the conduct of the 2023 Presidential and Legislative Elections, but with caution.
The ECC is the largest civil society platform that observes elections in Liberia and is comprised of several pro-democracy organizations including the Center for Democratic Governance (CDG); Center for Media Studies and Peace Building (CEMESP) and the Center for Conflict Prevention and Peacebuilding (CECPAP).
Other member organizations include the Institute for Research and Democratic Development (IREDD); Naymote Partners for Democratic Development; West Africa Network for Peace Building (WANEP), and the Women’s NGO Secretariat of Liberia (WONGOSOL).
The ECC works in partnership with Democracy International with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Its comments followed the National Elections Commission’s pronouncement that portable tablets with fingerprint scanners will be used to capture thumbprints for a biometric voter registry.
Announcing the preliminary plans for 2023, National Elections Commission (NEC) Chairperson Davidetta Browne Lansanah said the plan is to transition from optical mark recognition for secure voter registration to fingerprint biometrics.
If it works, this will be the first time NEC will be using the technology for the registration of voters.
The pronouncement has garnered mixed reactions with some in favor and others against, arguing that NEC is not prepared to transition to biometrics.
However, the ECC, in a statement issued on Monday, said the technology, if it is set up properly and in a timely manner, can add value to the quality of the electoral process; thereby minimizing double registration, automatic de-duplication fraud, and manipulation of the voter roll.
The ECC was quick to point out that while it commends the NEC for the transition to BVR, the process is not free of risks, rolling out several recommendations.
“The NEC needs to inform the public which model of the BVR that has been selected and what the pros and cons associated with its usage. The NEC should inform the public about the profile of the vendor that was selected and its track record in managing a BVR system,” it urged.
“The public needs to be informed on the total cost for the purchase and installation of the technology in order to assess its efficiency. This is against the background that the government has allocated US$20 Million in the 2022 national budget.”
It also said it is “deeply concerned” that the voter registration exercise will commence before the completion of the planned national census.
The Legislature recently adopted a joint resolution #001/2022, authorizing the Executive Branch of the Government to proceed to make the necessary preparations for the conduct of the National Census from October 24 to November 7, 2022.
Citing Article 80 (e) of the Liberian Constitution which provides constituencies to be apportioned by the NEC in accordance with the new population figures; the ECC called for the registration exercise should place after the conduct of Liberia’s National Population and Housing Census and demarcation of the constituencies based on the population size in order to avoid the misplacement of voters.
The ECC noted that while the BVR may eradicate double registration, it will not solve the issue of voter trucking which is associated with vote buying, a phenomenon that is becoming institutionalized in the country’s fragile democracy.
Commenting on October 27, 2022, the planned date of the official launch of civic voter education (CVE), the ECC said it is approximately two months to the commencement of the voter registration process which is on December 15, 2022.
Considering that the NEC is moving on to a completely new system that has never been used before, neither has it been piloted, two months for CVE is not sufficient to ensure adequate awareness and participation of citizens or voters, it noted.
Further in the statement, the ECC pointed out that the one-month period allocated for a political campaign is not enough and should be extended to allow citizens to engage more with the candidates.
“The limited time for the campaign also has the tendency to create increased tension as a result of two or more parties or candidates campaigning at the same time in the same location which has a potential to increase electoral violence.” It then called on the NEC to strengthen its engagement with stakeholders including political parties and civil society organizations on the procurement and installation of the BVR so as to engender national ownership of the process.