Liberia: Lack of Awareness for Voter Registration Exercise Worries Elections Observation Network

Monrovia — The Liberia Elections Observation Network (LEON) welcomes the start of the voter registration update which commenced today and is publishing results of its survey into how many people need to update their registration details. LEON is concerned about the lack of time provided for the update given the number of people indicated by the survey that will need to update their details and the lack of information and public awareness on when each center will be open.

LEON conducted a nationwide survey of 8339 people between 17 and 26 August this year. The survey was conducted with a random selection of locations and households across all counties and electoral districts that gives a solid representation of the population as a whole.

From the survey LEON found that 14% of the population are not registered, with the majority of these being under the age of 25 with a slight upweight amongst women. However, there are around 6% of people in other age groups who did not register during the 2017 voter registration process and the main reason they gave as to why they didn't register was due to lack of time. Apart from people not having registered, 21.5% said they have moved to a different electoral district and 27% said that they have lost their voter registration cards, both of which would need to come to the registration center to update their details in order to be able to vote. If we look at all the categories of people together there are around 40% of the total voting population who should go to the center for some form of voter registration update.

Since the voter registration teams will stay only three days in each location, it is a concern to LEON that many people will not have time to come to check their details; and that the centers will be overwhelmed with the numbers of people who need to register for the first time, re-register or to get new cards.

Another concern to LEON is the lack of information available to the public. The survey shows that 41% of respondents had not heard about the update and only 11% knew when it would start. Since the survey was conducted only two to three weeks prior to the start of the update awareness will not have improved much since then.

This, LEON believes will likely have an impact on the acceptance of the election process by political contestants and on the constitutional referendum. According to Article 91 of the Liberian constitution, any changes to the Constitution require the agreement of two-thirds of registered voters in a referendum. Thus, any people who are unable to change their registration details for reasons of moving or losing their cards will count against the two-thirds requirement. Similarly, any deceased persons remaining on the voter roll will also count against the two-thirds required. Since 41% of people in the survey reported that they have lost a member of their immediate family since voter registration in 2017 and the NEC has not provided a means to remove these people from the Voters roll, LEON is concerned that this will affect both the two-thirds requirement and confidence in the integrity of the final register.

Lastly, observation of the start of the registration update is uncertain due to the late printing of accreditation cards by the NEC. LEON is planning to observe the voter registration update with observers in every electoral district and a core team in Monrovia. LEON submitted our list of observers to the NEC well before the deadline, however, the accreditation cards were only provided to us on 9 September. It takes several days to distribute them to our observers around the country so observers do not have them for the start of the update. The ECC and political parties are in the same position.

LEON therefore calls upon the NEC to take the following actions:

To inform all voter registration staff to accept observers wearing LEON or ECC badges or jackets or with letters from their political party for the first few days until accreditation badges arrive.

To step-up measures to inform the public about the dates in each location. An effective measure would be to send people a few days ahead of time to each village covered by the precinct to inform elders and the population.

To extend the number of days the center are open in each location or the hours of registration if queues are long.

Since social distancing measures for COVID 19 mitigation need to be in place, to give people numbers if queues are long, so that they can go away and return later.

LEON calls upon the Ministry of Finance and Development to ensure that money is available to the NEC in a timely manner for the above actions to take place. LEON is aware that many of the problems facing the NEC in organizing an effective voter roll update have been caused by the required funds not having been included in the 2019-2020 National Budget and for the small amount of funds included not being made available in a timely manner.

LEON calls upon all political parties to make sure they keep the peace in the lead up to elections and to play their part in ensuring their supporters come to register if they need to.

LEON launched in May 2017 is a platform of four Liberian Civil Society Organizations: The Catholic Justice and Peace Commission (JPC), Liberia Crusaders for Peace (LCP), Federation of Liberia Youth (FLY) and National Union of Organizations for the Disabled (NUOD) with the goal of meaningfully contributing to democratization processes in Liberia. LEON observed the 2017 elections with over 1000 observers and has observed subsequent by-elections. LEON has a core team in Monrovia and observers stationed in all 73 electoral districts of Liberia and a further 200 surveyors. It will shortly be releasing results of a major survey into Violence Against Women in Elections and Politics; the survey on voter registration on which this statement is based, a survey into citizen's knowledge of the constitutional referendum.

LEON receives technical support from the Carter Center and funding from the Swedish Cooperation for the conduct of this survey and would like to extend thanks and appreciation to both for enabling us to conduct this research.

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