Liberia: NEC to Use Biometric System for 2023 Voter Registration

NEC chair Davidetta Browne Lansanah. 

.... “The advantages of biometric voter registration include prevention of multiple voter registrations, ensuring that there is the accuracy of the information collected and creation of voter identification for each voter,” the NEC boss said. 

The National Elections Commission has announced the use of a biometric voter-identification system to prevent electoral fraud and chaos, which has marred previous elections.

The move comes as NEC has for years been under pressure to dash its optical manual registration (OMR) system. The OMR system, for many, does not improve the accountability and transparency of electoral processes and is usually tainted by controversy and mistrust. 

“Over the period of one year now, the effort has been made to transition from the OMR registration to the biometric technology for the registration of voters. Biometric systems have advantages and we would ensure they are properly utilized for the best interest of all eligible voters and the country in general,”  said NEC chairperson  Davidetta Browne Lansanah. 

At a press conference yesterday,  Lansanah noted that the electoral body will do all in its capacity to ensure that elections registration data no longer end up being conflicted as experienced in past elections.

 The NEC’s planned use of the technology comes at a time when it is expected that more than two million Liberians will be eligible to vote in the 2023 presidential and legislative elections. The biometric system would help to better secure voter rolls and the integrity of the election process: voter registration, voter verification, and the transmission of results.

Its use is intended to meet complex electoral challenges — arrest multiple registrations by a single voter and multiple voting while supporting other mechanisms to avoid voter fraud and manipulation. In a biometric voting system, the voters are registered based on their unique physical characteristics like fingerprints and even facial recognition. 

Using these biometric characteristics, a person is registered as a voter. Identity theft, voting fraud, and other forms of voter fraud and tampering are targeted by biometric technology. The biometric voting system aims to provide a unique list of voters with zero duplicate voters. 

“The advantages of biometric voter registration include prevention of multiple voter registrations, ensuring that there is the accuracy of information collected and creation of voter identification for each voter,” the NEC boss said.  “It also has the ability to trace all acts of impersonation, remove all duplicated records of voter registration and the eradication of issues of unintentional errors during the data entry process.”

Meanwhile,  the electoral body is mute on the total cost for the biometric system  and whether it will work in collaboration with the National Identification Registry (NIR), which is responsible for issuing a biometric-based identification card to each citizen and resident in Liberia. 

The NIR already have a  digital identity database of Liberians and foreign nationals. 

Meanwhile, the NEC boss has announced to the public dates leading to the elections and the announcement of final results. For the voter registration period, the NEC boss said December 15 to March 17 would be used to conduct the registration of all eligible voters.

Article 77, subsection (b) states of the 1986 Revised Constitution that: “All elections shall be by secret ballot as may be determined by the Elections Commission, and every Liberian citizen not less than 18 years of age, shall have the right to be registered as a voter and to vote in public elections and referenda under this Constitution.” 

Therefore, all those who have attained the age of 18 will join ranks with others already more mature to register to vote. December 15, 2022, to March 24, 2023, was announced as the period for objections and appeals on voter registration while May 1 to June 20, 2023, will be used for civic voter education exhibition.

She continued that the issuance of the writ of elections will be done on May 9, 2023, and the exhibition of the provisional registration roll will take place from June 10-20, 2023. For objections and appeals on exhibition to be held and determined, June 10-27, 2023 was announced while the accreditation of media and Observers for Elections was set for June 10-September 11, 2023.

The NEC chairperson reported that the Commission will release final voter registration figures on July 1, 2023 ,and conduct candidates’ nominations from July 3 to August 5, 2023. For the publication of the preliminary list of candidates, NEC has set August 9, 2023, and August 10-22 of the same year for the replacement of lost and damaged voter registration cards and August 11 as the last day for the challenge to the preliminary list of candidates.

Lansanah added the final list of candidates will be published on September 4, 2023 and Presidential and Legislative campaign period will be the same September 4 to October 8, 2023 and list of voting precincts to be published for elections on September 18, 2023.

On October 10, 2023, elections will be held as provided for by the Constitution and announced by NEC. Complaints and adjudications from the polls will begin on October 10, 2023, the main elections day and the announcement of provisional results will take place from October 14 to 24, while the announcement of the final results will be made on October 25, 2023.

Elections Financing

Meanwhile, the election Commissioner chair said the NEC has adjusted and submitted to the Legislature US$61 million.

“The Government has approved in the 2022 Fiscal budget, the amount of US$20 million for the National Elections Commission,” Lansanah said, adding that the amount is to enable NEC to finance voter registration and other preliminary activities leading to the October 10, 2023 polls.

She noted further that, of the US$20 million, the Ministry of Finance has already disbursed US$6 million. Regarding regulations for voter registration, the NEC boss said the Commission has reviewed and is finalizing the regulations to be used during the voter registration period.

Voter Registration Procurement Processes

She reported that the voter registration procurement activities are in progress following the approval of the procurement plan by the Public Procurement and Concessions Commission (PPCC).

Lansanah said the NEC has initiated the bid process for the procurement of supplies and delivery of biometric equipment as well as procurement for vehicles.

“The Commission has submitted a request document of No Objection to the PPCC for the award of contracts. Other procurement activities are ongoing,” she reported. NEC has, for the record, been in trouble with the PPCC for allegedly violating the procurement law, mainly through the lack of free, fair and transparent bidding processes over the years.

It can be recalled that in December of 2020, Lansanah and Roseline Kowo, Executive Director of PPCC were at loggerheads for the NEC’s boss alleged refusal to follow the right procedures in handling procurement matters.

Lansanah at the time tried to make the public believe that the PPCC boss was at fault and contributing to delays in processes leading to the Special Senatorial Elections, but the PPCC boss rebuked her and termed her alleged failure to do the right thing as unnecessary and counterproductive to the tenets of transparency and accountability.

NEC, under the watch of its executive commissioner, Lansanah, said that more than US$182,000 was used for the rental of 20 pieces of facial recognition thermometers, which became a serious national debate on the Commission’s willful selection to misuse or embezzle public funds.

On the assessment of voter registration centers across the country, Lansanah said the NEC is working in collaboration with the Liberia Institute for Geo-Information Service (LISGIS), the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Liberia Land Authority (LLA), and other stakeholders.

“LISGIS national geographic plan pre-census data and updated administrative units inventories will be used by the NEC for the efficient placement of registration centers, which would possibly reduce traveling distances and time and, where feasible, mitigating inadequacy of centers in hardly accessible communities,” she noted.