The National Elections Commission or NEC has been giving updates on its current activities as it begins planning ahead of the 2023 General Elections.
NEC Chairperson Mrs. Davidetta Brown Lasanah told local journalists here on Friday, July 23, that the commission has shifted its focus to preliminary planning for the 2023 General Elections while at the same time looking forward to the conduct of the pending by-elections
The NEC boss stated that as part of the preliminary planning, the electoral body has decided to transition from Optical Mark Recognition (OMR) voter registration system to Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) registration technology.
She explained that the decision to transition from previous voters registration Optical Mark Recognition (OMR) to the Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) system was made on May 20, this year following consultations with stakeholders.
Mrs. Davidetta Brown-Lasanah further explained that the reason behind their decision is due to the challenges the NEC has faced over the years with the voter roll that was generated in 2017 and updated in 2020, using the Optical Mark Recognition (OMR) technology - a complete manual means of voter registration (VR) which has now become obsolete.
"It is worth noting that Liberia is the only country in Africa that still uses the Optical Mark Recognition system of voter registration," she opined.
She also explained that the BVR system though expensive from the initial implementation, but its successful transition could the challenges and prevent multiple registrations - trucking of voters/ registrants; ensure the accuracy of the information collected for each registered voter; creates unique lifetime voter identification for each registered voter; eradicate voter impersonation; remove duplicated records from the Voter Registration System; eradicate issues related to unintentional errors during the data entry process; allows the Commission to carry out continuous registration, and significantly reduce the cost of future elections.
The NEC Chair stated that in pursuit of the BVR transition, the electoral body has taken several steps which involves its technical team visiting the National Identification Registry (NIR), drawing up a road map for the transition process, and the conduct of a feasibility study conducted by experts from the UNDP.
Proposed 2023 Elections Budget
The NEC boss also disclosed that the Commission on 26 May 2021 submitted a proposed budget of Ninety-one Million Nine Hundred Fifty-eight Thousand Five Hundred Forty-seven Dollars and Seventy-two Cents (US$91,958,547.72.00) to the 54th National Legislature for the 2023 General Elections.
She explained that some of the additional key cost-driving items in the proposed budget, in addition to the traditional major cost factors, are the proposed transition to a Biometric Voter Registration system which include a precursor pilot project, the proposed creation of additional fourteen magisterial offices, the creation of civic education cells across the country, and the possible delimitation of electoral constituencies following the 2022 National Census.
However, she stated that during a hearing on the proposed budget, the Commission was advised to reprogram the budget based on priorities to enable the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP) to pay in phases following the passage of the budget.
The advice was said to have been based on the country's current financial situation with a call for the Government of Liberia to seek assistance from international partners towards the Commission's transition to BVR technology.
She indicated that the NEC was also advised to reconsider the issue of the creation of additional magisterial offices at this time due to the current economic hardship.
She also pointed out that the June 16 hearing has since been followed by series of consultations with various committees and individual members of the Legislature, MFDP, Political Parties, and civil society to further discuss the proposed budget.
By-Elections arising from the December, 2020 Senatorial elections
The NEC chairperson announced that the Commission has received notifications from the House of Representatives, for the conducts by-elections arising from the December 8, 2020 elections.
She explained that considering the legal time limitation for by-elections, the Commission has prepared and submitted timelines and budgets for the by-elections to authorities. The total cost of the four by-elections is One Million Seven Hundred Twenty-seven Thousand Four Hundred Fifty-one Dollars and Seventy-three cents (US$1,727,451.73).
"Because of the delay in funding and realizing the impracticability of meeting the 90 days constitutional provision for the conduct of the by-elections in the absence of funds, the Commission wrote the President and the Legislature regarding the non-feasibility of holding the by-elections within the constitutional timeframe.
Ladies and Gentlemen of the Press, fellow Liberians, the Commission would like to inform you that as at today's date it has received funds for three of the by-elections totaling One Million Two Hundred Seventy-one Thousand Five Hundred Fifty-nine Dollars and Sixty-one Cents (US$1,271,559.61), and a balance of Four Hundred Fifty-five Thousand Eight Hundred Ninety-two Dollars and Twelve Cents (US$455,892.12) for Bong County is being processed.
The Commission thanks the Government for the support. As the NEC awaits the disbursement of the remaining funds (US$455,892.12), the Commission has written the leadership of the Legislature informing them of the progress made; as this will inform the Legislature in setting a new date for the conduct of the By-Elections."
The NEC chairperson stated that there are currently no cases from the 2020 Elections pending before the Commission.