MONROVIA – With the ongoing Biometric Voter Registration entering is final stages of conclusion, the Center for Development and Election management (CEDEM), a newly established non-government organization dedicated to democracy and election related issues has sharply criticized the entire process, saying though biometric mechanism is a safety that prevents the multiple registration, the current “biometric registration process is not genuine but pseudo because the current voter registration process is in reality an OMR registration in disguise which could lead to a fraudulent election come October 10, 2023.
In a press release issued over the weekend, CEDEM said its submission which critiqued the current BVR was based on the outcome of the first phase that was conducted in 6 counties including Montserrado, Grand Bassa, Margibi, Bomi, Gbarpolu and Grand Cape Mount Counties, stressing that the only difference between the current purported biometric registration and the former OMR registration is the quality of the voter card.
“The current card is a PVC Card while the former OMR card was PLASTIC. Unlike a biometric card that usually has a chip and a hologram, the current card has only a barcode thus rendering it vulnerable to duplication.
“Moreover, in a challenging environment (where there is no internet connectivity across the Country) as is the case in Liberia, no credible Electoral Commission can conduct a biometric registration exercise by collecting data and making available to registrants the voter registration card on the same day.
The release further said that the provision of registration cards on the same day of data collection is possible only in a non-challenging environment (where there is internet connectivity across the Country) as is the case of Countries outside the global South such as those in Europe, North and South America, Arabia, Australia, and most parts of Asia.
“In challenging environments such as Liberia, a genuine biometric voter registration process would entail the collection of data accompanied by the provision of voter registration cards at most after seven (7) days.
“That period would enable the Commission to clean the roll by removing all multiple registrants that bypassed the system due to inactive internet connectivity during the enrollment or registration exercise”, the release said.
The release further said that to make available to a registrant, a biometric registration card on the same day of data collection in an environment like Liberia, as is being done by the Davidetta Browne-Lansanah led NEC, completely erodes any possibility by the Commission to remove from the roll any multiple registrants notwithstanding the mounting evidence of multiple registrations already reported.
“With the many pieces of evidence relating to the multiple registrations occurring in Monrovia and its environs, one can imagine the alarming multiple registrations that are occurring in rural Liberia. Indeed, there is reason to believe that the result of the current purported biometric voter registration would give rise to a Final Registration Roll (FRR) that is vulnerable to fraud similar to what obtained in 2017 or worse.
“To crown it all, the National Elections Commission openly authenticated the fake nature of the current biometric registration process by announcing that the voter registration would be conducted using biometrics (digital) and that the casting of ballots would be done using OMR (manual).
“In other words, there would be no biometric verification of voters on election day, a situation that would make possible multiple casting of ballots coupled with voters impersonating others to vote, a practice that is associated with the OMR system. In short, two systems are being used to execute a single electoral process which is unprecedented in the history of electoral management anywhere in the world”, the release said.
CEDEM faulted the figures announced by the National Elections Commission (NEC) from the first phase where, according to her, more than eight hundred thousand (800,000) persons registered in Montserrado County in just 21 days. CEDEM maintained that the figures announced by the NEC, with specific reference to the figures for Montserrado County, were astonishing and have the trapping of a fake result because of three reasons among which are there were multiple machine failures, in some cases like G. W. Gibson, the machine was down for the whole of March 20 and that all of these factors brought the registration process to a total halt at many centers across Montserrado County
“There were shortages of cards associated with the registration process that resulted to a slowdown of the process for several hours at nearly all the Centers across Montserrado
“There was frequent power failure at many registration Centers due to the absence of solar power. In a given situation near SKD, a contestant provided a generator to the NEC staffers, but the community members revolted against that move”, the release named the two other reasons.
CEDEM further said that the process was halted for several hours at that center and was a common occurrence in Montserrado and was more pronounced in the other five counties and that the situation prompted the UNDP to donate couple of generators to the NEC on 17 April 2023 to aid the registration of Voters in the other remaining nine counties.
“Notwithstanding these complications, the NEC created huge doubts relating to the credibility of the prevailing Voter Registration process by announcing that nearly one million (1,000,000) persons registered in Montserrado County in just 21 days.
There are doubts surrounding the figures announced by the Commission because people have genuine reasons to believe that the National Elections Commission is using the preliminary result of the debunked and discredited Population and Housing Census as a benchmark in relation to the result of the current voter registration exercise.
“To erase the increasing doubts that have the potential to negatively impact the conduct of the pending crucial national elections, it is imperative that the NEC disaggregate per precinct, the figures announced as results of the just ended phase 1 of the Voter Registration Exercise.
“The Online registration of voters is another subject of increasing doubts that have enveloped the credibility of the Voter Registration process due to the fact that there is no effective tracking system in place for observers to follow the process since there was no awareness relating to this very strange component of the registration exercise.
“In this regard, the NEC should make available to the Stakeholders and the public at large the number of persons registered online as per precinct to enhance the transparency of the registration process. This would help restore credibility to the Voter Registration exercise and further contribute to the conduct of free and fair elections come October 2023”, the release said further.
CEDEM also raised credibility issues around the electoral umpire and stated “we have arrived at this juncture in the electoral history of our Country because it cannot be overemphasized that the current composition of the National Elections Commission is partisan and incompetent”
“LAXTON, the Vendor selected by the National Elections Commission (NEC) to implement the Biometric Voter Registration Project has very limited experience with the conduct of biometric voter registration in a challenging environment like Liberia. Coupled with its limited experience, the company is not financially viable. As a consequence of its lack of financial viability in addition to its limited profile, it was disqualified by the NEC during the earlier bidding process at the Commission;
“Following the rejection of EKEMP (the Vendor earlier favored by the NEC to be awarded the biometric registration contract) by the Public Procurement and Concessions Commission (PPCC), the NEC amazingly contradicted itself by awarding the biometric registration contract to Laxton”, the release said.
CEDEM repeatedly said NEC has demonstrated through its actions over the past years as is being manifested in the unfolding Voter Registration process, that it is the greatest threat to the conduct of free, fair, and transparent Elections come October 2023.
“To ensure free, fair, and transparent Elections, it is important that the International Community through the United Nations, the United States, the European Union, the African Union, and the Economic Community of West- African States (ECOWAS) take over the operations of the Data Center at the NEC by the deployment of International IT technicians for the conduct of the pending Presidential and Legislative Elections in Liberia.
“A crucial part of the term of reference of these international staff would be the recruitment of individuals based on merit and professionalism to serve as Data Entry Clerks to ensure transparent tabulation of results during the conduct of the pending Elections of October 2023”, the release concluded.
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