MONROVIA – The Elections Coordinating Committee (ECC) in its report at the end of the second phase of the Biometric Voter Registration(BVR) said it observed that there was significant improvement in the conduct of phase two of the process in nine counties of Liberia, adding that at the same time, the process experienced challenges including equipment failure, the shortage of cards, and the failure to complete rejection forms for those who were turned down during registration as well as making some observations and recommendation in order to improve on service delivery.
In a press release from ECC yesterday, Tuesday, May 23, 2023, and signed by the Chairman, Cllr. Oscar Bloh, ECC said it deployed 49 trained observers to observe the conduct of phase two of the BVR in 37 electoral districts and that overall, the ECC received a total of 220 reports on the conduct of voter registration from all nine counties and 37 electoral districts targeted in phase two. Observers reported that NEC registration staff were more consistent in the application of the eligibility requirements before registering applicants.
On the setting up and opening at the various registration centers, ECC said 193 of 220 registration centers opened on time, with only 26 of the centers opening late and attributed the lateness to the lack of ink for the printer, shortage of cards or the lack of electricity to power the equipment. The release said Nimba and Lofa, two counties where a huge number is expected to be generated, were seen to have the highest number of centers that opened late.
It further said that 159 of 220 centers were seen to be accessible to persons with disabilities or special needs. However, 61 of the centers observed were located within buildings with stairs-making accessibility difficult; 3 registration staff were present at opening with at least one female observed to be a member of the team; This corresponds with the data from phase one of the process and 219 of 220 centers had a complete BVR kit present at opening with all the necessary forms (including rejection and complaint forms) and ledger for recording the names of successful applicants; “This is also an improvement from phase one which had 4 centers missing a BVR kit based on 216 reports”, ECC said.
On the registration procedure, ECC said at 216 of 219 registration centers, persons with disabilities, the elderly, and pregnant women were given preference to register before other applicants; at 185 of 219 registration centers, applicants were asked to present proof of eligibility before being registered while in 34 of these centers, applicants were allowed to register without providing proof of eligibility which ECC said was quite an improvement as compared to phase one where it was observed that 64 of the total centers observed, staff did not request proof of eligibility.
The report also said at 215 of 219 registration centers, every successful applicant had his/her finger marked with an indelible ink to minimize double registration; at 215 of 219 registration centers, applicants received their voter registration cards before leaving the center. The failure to present printed voter registration cards was due to card shortages or printer malfunction.
Giving further breakdown, ECC said at 60 of 219 registration centers, the BVR equipment experienced malfunction but was quickly resolved, and at 14 of these centers, the malfunction caused serious delay to the process, this according to ECC was similar to the extent to which the malfunctioning equipment affected phase one of the BVR.
It also said that in 41 of 219 registration centers, the malfunctioning equipment was immediately fixed or replaced while at 64 of the 219 registration centers, ECC said its observers reported that NEC staff did not fill the rejection form, whenever an applicant was rejected.
With respect to the closing of registration centers, ECC observers reported closing of the registration centers generally by 5:30 pm; however, in a small component of these centers, applicants in line by 5:00 pm were not allowed to register. ECC then explained further that 162 of 218 centers observed by ECC closed between 5:00Pm to 5:30pm and 54 of these centers were reported to close after 5:31pm while only in 9 of 219 registration centers observed, applicant in line by 5:00pm were not allowed to register.
On security and party agents, the report said 128 of 220 centers observed were reported to have uniformed security personnel present throughout the day, which was a marginal increase compared to phase one and that political party representatives were present to observe the BVR process in 163 of the 219 centers that the ECC observed, which is an improvement over phase one, adding however when it comes to high agent deployment, the Coalition for Democratic Change(CDC) and the Unity Party(UP), deployed the most agents.
Among other things, the report looked at objections and appeals on voter registration and stated Unlike the BVR phase one, ECC observers reported that 4 hearings on objections and appeals were heard by the NEC Magistrates in Maryland and Rivercess Counties. In Maryland, the hearings were focused on attempted registration by minors and registration attempts by immigrants from Ivory Coast. In these cases, the applicants were rejected because they were unable to present any proof of their eligibility and they were banned from registering. Similar to this, a hearing concerning a rejected female applicant who was thought to be underage was held in Rivercess. It was established following the hearing that she was qualified to register.
“During the observed period, ECC observers reported several critical incidents involving equipment failure or malfunction, low power supply to the BVR kit and shortage in BVR cards. This caused the process to be significantly delayed in some cases and shut down for the full day at other centers”, part of the report said of some critical incidents observed during the exercise, and listed some specific areas the incident took place.
The report also addressed the issue of voters trucking and said Like phase one, the BVR phase two was characterized by voter trucking in Bong, Lofa, Nimba, and Grand Kru Counties in contravention of Section 10.1 of the New Elections Law of Liberia. Below are documented instances of trucking reported by ECC observers:
“Lofa electoral district 01- Foya, at Sengar Palava hut with center code 21083: ECC observer reported the trucking of voters to the registration center, orchestrated by Representative Thomas P. Fallah. The group was intercepted by citizens who attempted to stop them from registering, which interfered with the registration process.
“Bong electoral district 03- Meleki Town hall with center code 06085: Motorbikes and Kehkeh were seen transporting applicants to the registration center. ECC observers received reports that this act was being financed by Representative Melvin Cole office in Monrovia.
“Nimba electoral district 05: Aspirant James Somah, was reported to have trucked applicants in a pickup from Ganta district 1 to Yao Lehpula, district 5 which resulted in a tragic motor accident leading to death of at least three persons, leaving several wounded.
“Nimba electoral district 07- It was reported that aspirant Musa Bility was involved with trucking of applicants to Saclepea who were non-inhabitants.
“Grand Kru County: ECC received reports of Electoral district 01 candidate Alfred Boe and Senate Pro-Tempore Albert Chea being allegedly involved with voter trucking in Grand Kru from Maryland and other areas of the country.
On the reports of underaged registration, the report said during the BVR Phase two, ECC received reports involving underage registration, stating while incidents of underage registration were verified and confirmed in Grand Kru, the ECC observer in Lofa reported that the allegations were untrue. Below are accounts of the incidents from the two counties:
“The ECC observer reported that the Lutheran Church, with center code 18018, as well as other areas in the county, were impacted by incidents of underage registration. The NEC Magistrate issued additional instructions to Registrars, instructing them to ask parents who visit the facility to certify the age of their children to sign a bond before proceeding with the registration in order to regulate the situation.
“In Foya, Electoral District 01- Lofa County, the ECC County Coordinator reported an incident involving the denial of a male applicant who was accused of being underage by his father. The ECC Coordinator claims that this prompted a police investigation and the engagement of the NEC Magistrate responsible for this region. The investigation revealed that the male applicant was of legal voting age, and his father was imprisoned for making a false claim”, the report said.
At the end of the report, ECC made several recommendations directed towards NEC, the political parties and the public.
For NEC, it recommended that in order to increase transparency, ECC calls on the NEC to invite representatives from political parties and national and international observation groups to observe the downloading of data and the de-duplication process, that the NEC undertakes a public outreach to create an awareness on the Exhibition process and lastly, that the NEC is encouraged as in phase one to release the phase two results disaggregated by electoral districts and gender.
As for the political parties and aspirants, ECC advised them to file formal complaints with the NEC if they have concerns about the process or outcome of phase two of the BVR exercise while for the public it said that all registered voters should take advantage the Exhibition exercise, which is set for June 12–17, 2023, to verify their information on the provisional registration list.
The Elections Coordinating Committee (ECC) is Liberia’s largest domestic election observation network with diverse competencies, experiences, and expertise in democracy, elections, and governance established since 2010. ECC’s members include the Center for Democratic Governance (CDG); Center for Media Studies and Peace Building (CEMESP); Center for Conflict Prevention and Peacebuilding (CECPAP); Institute for Research and Democratic Development (IREDD); Naymote Partners for Democratic Development (NAYMOTE-PADD); West Africa Network for Peace Building (WANEP), and the Women NGO Secretariat of Liberia (WONGOSOL).
The ECC election observation effort is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).