Liberia: ALCOD Wants Electronic Voting at Embassies and Missions Abroad

Chairman Alfred Sieh, ALCOD Chairman, on Out of Country Voting

... -Carves Strategic Plan for Diaspora Liberians to Vote

The All Liberian Conference on Dual Citizenship (ALCOD) has suggested that the National Elections Commission (NEC) put in place, at Liberia’s embassies and missions abroad, electronic voting setups so as to enable Liberians living abroad to vote just as their counterparts in Liberia will be voting on October 10.

Liberians go to the poll on that day, after six years, to elect a new President and some of their 103 lawmakers. 

Article 80 ‘C’ of the Constitution of Liberia states: “Every Liberian citizen shall have the right to be registered in a constituency, and to vote in public elections only in the constituency where registered, either in person or by absentee ballot; provided that such citizen shall have the right to change his voting constituency as may be prescribed by the Legislature.” 

The ability of people who are outside their home country when an election takes place to exercise their right to vote has long been an issue in electoral design and management.  

However, ALCOD hasn’t left all the headaches/issues to NEC alone to handle. It has gone one step further in its advocacy that diaspora Liberians should be allowed to vote from their host nations abroad, to suggest what is best for them. 

In this drive, ALCOD has carved out a strategic plan that can aid the NEC in its electoral design and management if and when it decides that Liberians living abroad can be allowed to vote while outside Liberia. 

Electronic means 

ALCOD wants electronic voting. Under this process, the voter may use the Internet, personal digital assistants (PDAs), or a mobile phone to cast his or her vote. This type of electronic voting is most often referred to as remote electronic voting or e-voting and may become more common in the future. This type of voting is being piloted in Estonia.

The ALCOD document, titled, “All Liberian Conference on Dual Citizenship (ALCOD) Strategic Plan for Diaspora Liberians to Vote from Abroad,” states that at the moment, very few countries have started using electronic voting for their external voters, although several tests are being carried out, and systems are being piloted. 

The Liberian diaspora group, having over 500,000 Liberians, acknowledged that security issues involved with electronic voting, and especially with remote e-voting, pose some challenges that should be resolved before this new voting channel can ever be introduced in Liberia. 

“Cost is another issue of concern that should be addressed before moving into a wide use of e-voting. While e-voting has only been tested and implemented on a few occasions, more experience is available when it comes to using electronic means for facilitating parts of the external voting process, such as the provision of information on the parties and candidates and voter registration.”

“We also suggest the National Elections Commission (NEC) work with the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) for the conduct of registration and voting in the Diaspora. During our transition from the Civil War to a Civilian Governing System, IFES worked with NEC to provide systems and methods for those elections.

“ALCOD is available to assist in collaboration in various countries where we as ‘Liberians in the diaspora can offer and work with NEC to make out-of-country voting a reality.”

In its strategic document, ALCOD gives compelling reasons why it thinks diaspora Liberians should be given the chance to vote, too.

“Furthermore, in post-conflict societies, with large numbers of refugees and displaced persons, external voting operations are being organized on a massive scale to allow for the inclusion of these people in the electoral and political processes at home that are designed to lead to national reconciliation and lasting peace.”

Various international organizations, including IFES (formerly the International Foundation for Electoral Systems), the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the Council of Europe, the United Nations Electoral Assistance Division (UNEAD), the European Parliament and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), have been at the forefront of including migrant populations in democratic electoral processes in their countries of origin. In the case of the IOM, the mandate to promote humane and orderly migration as a means to benefit both migrants and society has allowed for external voting operations to promote conditions conducive to the return of refugees and other displaced persons, notably in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo (Serbia and Montenegro), East Timor, Afghanistan and, most recently, Iraq.

“However, external voting operations are complex and pose considerable challenges. In democracies holding regular elections in peacetime, provisions for external voting can be included in the electoral legislation and implemented at each electoral event, using well-planned and practical timetables and deadlines. In most transitional situations, however, external voting programs have to be set up from scratch, with neither staff nor structures in place where they are needed to enable multiple activities to happen in parallel and at great speed. Since all planning steps and operational benchmarks lead up to the ultimate deadline of election day, the deadlines for each step are usually tight and inflexible,” the ALCOD document says.

ALCOD, however, acknowledged in its strategy that there are challenges associated with such process. “Planning for sufficient resources to be mobilized quickly is crucial, while at the same time the political sensitivities of any electoral process—often heightened in enabling displaced and expatriate people to vote and the role of the international community IV post-conflict situations—have to be balanced. It is therefore justified in such situations to treat external voting operations as emergency operations, and those involved have to be prepared not only for the long working hours but also for having to take ‘short cuts’ with established standard procedures. However, the basic operational and electoral rules and regulations have to be followed so that the short cuts do not endanger the overall security and accountability of the electoral process.”

However, by providing the means for nationals overseas to participate, the international community undoubtedly contributes to promoting the individual’s right to vote, and enhances democratic participation and peaceful development.

This newspaper hasn’t yet established whether Liberian diplomats and other embassy staffers, who are Liberians, are allowed to vote from their host countries.  There are special provisions enacted by a number of countries to enable voting by diplomats and members of the armed forces outside the country. 

Research shows that external voting is currently allowed by 115 countries and territories in the world. Twenty-eight African countries and 16 countries in the Americas have external voting. A fairly high number of European countries (41) allow it, as well as ten in Oceania and 20 in Asia.

“This Strategic Plan suggests that there are three main groups of Liberians staying or residing abroad who are entitled to vote. These are refugees, individuals in certain professional groups, such as military personnel, public officials or diplomatic staff (and their families) and all others living or staying abroad, temporarily or permanently.”

At the moment, the most common option, made available by most countries that practice external voting, is personal voting. Voting often takes place in diplomatic missions or other official facilities. This option is used by 55 countries. The main advantages of this option are that it ensures the secrecy of the vote, and that the voter’s choice is guaranteed to end up on the ballot paper. 

Where external voting is only allowed for one type of election, the most common practice is to allow it for legislative elections, which is the case in 31 countries. Fourteen countries allow external voting for presidential elections only. There are no known cases of external voting being allowed for referendums only.