Liberia: BVR Process Marred by Underage Entrants in G. Kru

 Picture shows underage children holding voter ID cards .


…… ECC'S BVR observation findings reveal

National Elections Commission workers assigned in Grand Kru, the home county and stronghold of President George Weah, were involved in the registration of underage children during the just ended BVR process, the Election Coordinating Committee (ECC) has said.

The committee said while there were widespread reports of underage registration across the nine counties where the phase two of the BVR process was taking place, it was only able to confirm that the illegal act took place in the home county of the President.

The NEC in a release last week confirmed that underage kids were registered by its temporary contractors but actions are being taken to address the situation. While the NEC has not disclosed the number and magnitude of cases of voter registration malpractices, including underage registration, discovered so far, culprits have been deactivated while the investigation is ongoing and those who are found guilty will have the voters’ registration removed and a complaint filed to the Ministry of Justice for prosecution.

“Several duplicates and underaged registrations are being detected, and their voter information deactivated until further investigation,” the Commission said in a release yesterday. “All ineligible registrants will be removed and, in cases where [there] is/are alleged criminal motives, referred to the Ministry of Justice for immediate action.”

The Commission’s revelation comes after phase two of its voters’ registration, which ran from April 21 to May 11, was marred by complaints of underage registration and other technical issues.

Though the NEC failed to indicate where those violations took place, it however indicated that it has begun investigating several issues of underage voter registration and duplicates, which violate the country’s electoral law. The Commission said the cases were uncovered during the stage of its deduplication and adjudication of voters’ information collected from 2,080 voter registration centers across the country.

The ECC, the largest domestic election observation network, on May 23 released its official findings on phase two of the Biometric Voter Registration (BVR). The group highlighted underage registration in Grand Kru, one of the nine counties that were involved in phase two of the BVR process.

The ECC report focuses primarily on the underage registration in Grand Kru County, the successes as well as the challenges through equipment failure, the shortage of cards, and the failure to complete rejection forms for those who were turned down during the process.

“During the BVR Phase two, ECC received reports involving underage registration. While incidents of underage registration were verified and confirmed in Grand Kru, the ECC observer in Lofa reported that the allegations were untrue,” the ECC's Chairman, Cllr. Oscar Bloh, said during a press conference on Tuesday.

“The ECC observers reported that the Lutheran Church, with center code 18018, in Grand Kru County, as well as other areas in the county, was impacted by incidents of underage registration,” Bloh noted.

Many fear that the issue of handing voter cards to child in the President’s home is meant to give the incumbent an upper hand in the upcoming October 10, 2023 polls, as was reportedly done with the results of the 2022 national housing and population census where the Southeastern region, from whence President Weah hails, and is his stronghold, experienced astronomical surge in its population than other parts of the country.

The Liberia Institute for Statistics and Geo-Information Services (LISGIS) in its preliminary results of the 2022 census ranked southeastern Liberia as the region that experienced the highest population growth.

Three of the five counties in the Southeast experienced nearly a hundred percent increment in their population in 14 years. Grand Kru, the home county of the President, led the way with an 89% increment, followed by Grand Gedeh and River Gee both experiencing an 87% increment.

The opposition immediately condemned the LISGIS report, terming it as a cooked number. 

It can be recalled that ECC said it received reports of the Senate Pro-Tempore and Senator of Grand Kru County, Albert Chie, allegedly involved with voter trucking in the county from Maryland County and other parts of the country. 

Chie, according to the ECC, transported voters from all parts of the country to register in Grand Kru during the just-ended phase two of the National Elections Commission's biometric voter registration exercise. “Neither the National Elections Commission (NEC) nor the Ministry of Justice took any action to stop this serious electoral violation.”

“The report illustrates that the NEC’s Magistrate issued additional instructions to the registrar, instructing them to ask parents who visit the registration center to certify the age of their children to sign a bond before proceeding with the registration in order to regulate the situation,” the ECC boss noted.

Cllr Bloh claimed that In Foya, Electoral District #1, 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, prompting 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,” indicated Bloh.

Unlike the BVR phase one, ECC says its 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” the ECC said. 

 Similar to this, the ECC also said a hearing concerning a rejected female applicant who was thought to be underage was held in Rivercess County. “It was established following the hearing that she was qualified to register,” according to the ECC. 

According to the ECC, phase two processes experienced challenges including equipment failure, the shortage of cards, and the failure to complete rejection forms for those who were turned down during registration.

However, in order to increase transparency, ECC recommended that the NEC invite representatives from political parties and national and international observation groups to observe the downloading of data and the deduplication process. “That the NEC undertakes a public outreach to create awareness on the Exhibition process,” it says. “Lastly, that the NEC is encouraged, as in phase one, to release the phase two results disaggregated by electoral districts and gender.

The ECC further recommends that political parties and aspirants are advised to file formal complaints with the NEC if they have concerns about the process or outcome of phase two of the BVR exercise.

"That all registered voters should take advantage of the Exhibition exercise, which is set for June 12–17, 2023, to verify their information on the provisional registration,” the ECC noted.