“The Commission shall cause the establishment of as many registration centers as necessary within the Counties at Liberian Embassies and Consular Offices in countries where Liberians are resident and shall cause to undertake continuous and periodic registration of voters,” reads an amendment to the New Elections law.
A law that would give diaspora Liberians the right to vote in next year's elections and all others has been passed by members of the 54th legislature.
The law, which is one of the several amendments made by the 54th legislature to the new election law, now awaits President George Weah's signature before becoming law.
It was however secretly passed without much publicity and comes nearly three months after Liberia recognized dual citizenship, allowing Liberians of 18 years and older, who have acquired the citizenship of another country, to regain their Liberian citizenship.
The law, prior to this amendment, did not grant privilege to voting outside of Liberia and so the Senate and the House of Representatives in a joint Conference report last week, moved to amend Section 3.1 of the country's electoral law to give diaspora Liberians the right to vote.
Liberia is set to go to the polls in October 2023 to elect a president and more than half of its legislature. It is in this election and going forward that diaspora Liberians could cast their ballots in their respective countries of residence across the Diaspora. However, the mechanics involved have not been disclosed in terms of how the diaspora voter registration and the voting process would be conducted and how transparent and credible the process would be.
“Section 3.1 of the New Elections Law (1986), as amended through 2014, is hereby amended, as follows: Every citizen of Liberia, including citizens resident in the diaspora, who have attained the age of eighteen (18) years or older may register as a voter, except one who has been judicially declared to be incompetent or of unsound mind or who has been disenfranchised as a result of conviction of an infamous crime and has not been restored to citizenship.”
“Principal means of verifying whether an applicant to vote is a citizen of Liberia may include (a) Production of valid Liberian passport or a valid Liberian National Identification Card (also known as Citizen ID Card) issued by the National Identification Registry (NIR).”
“A Liberian citizen living in the diaspora has the right to vote in Liberia's presidential elections in every election year provided he/she conforms to the principal means of verification as spelled out in Section 3.1 of this law and consistent with the regulation issued by the Commission (National Elections Commission) for that purpose.”
However, the law called on the NEC to not just adopt rules and regulations around external voting but to ensure that diaspora Liberians vote in the presidential election only — with the possibility of this occurring in for the 2029 presidential election and beyond.
The law also called on the NEC to establish voter registration centers as well as polling centers for diaspora Liberians at all of the country’s embassies and consulate offices.
It also enshrined that Liberian citizens living in the diaspora have the right to vote in every election year provided they use their identity cards or passports as proof of their citizenship before participation in the election process.
“The Commission shall adopt rules and regulations and provide the necessary infrastructures to facilitate the registration and voting of Liberian citizens, resident in the diaspora, who are qualified to vote, provided that they shall be eligible to vote in a presidential election only; and provided also that such opportunity of a Liberian in the diaspora to vote at Liberian Embassy of Liberia Consular Office shall be possible for the first time for the 2029 presidential election and thereafter.”
“Chapter 3. Voter Registration and Voter Updates of the New Elections Law (1986), as amended through 2014, is hereby amended by adding thereto Section 3.2 (d) Registration and Voting of Liberian Citizens in the Diaspora, which reads, as follows.
“A Liberian citizen, qualified to vote and is resident in the diaspora may, to the extent reasonable and practical, register to vote and vote at the Liberian Embassy of Liberia Consular Office nearest the place of his/her residence in the country in which he/she resides, or at any other location prescribed by the Commissions.”
Section 3.1(a) of the law is amended to say that the NEC shall cause the establishment of as many registration centers as necessary at “Liberian Embassies and Consular Offices in countries where Liberians are resident and shall cause to undertake continuous and periodic registration of voters, especially the update of the voter registration roll at least four (4) months before general presidential and legislative elections.”
“And the Commission shall submit updated voter rolls to political parties by hard copies and electronic copies and to the public in general by posting hard copies at the respective places of voter registration at least one month prior to election date for presidential and legislative elections.”
Meanwhile, the lawmakers' actions came just a few weeks after the NEC released a timetable for the conduct of the 2023 elections, as well as its budget, without capturing diaspora Liberians.
And to ensure that the law is workable, provided the President approves it, would require changes in the NEC budget and work plan — the latter requiring more work and an expanded workforce.