BVR Phase-two Observation
The Elections Coordinating Committee (ECC), established in 2010, is Liberia’s largest domestic election observation network comprising seven Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) with diverse competencies, experiences, and expertise in democracy and governance work targeting different sectors of the population including women, youth, traditional leaders, policymakers and the media. ECC’s members include the Center for Democratic Governance (CDG); Center for Media Studies and Peace Building (CEMESP); Center for Conflict Prevention and Peacebuilding (CECPAP); Institute for Research and Democratic Development (IREDD); Naymote Partners for Democratic Development (NAYMOTE-PADD); West Africa Network for Peace Building (WANEP), and the Women NGO Secretariat of Liberia (WONGOSOL).
ECC deployed 49 trained observers to monitor the conduct of phase two of the 2023 biometric voter registration exercise, which took place from April 21 to May 11, 2023, across the nine counties and 37 electoral districts. The ECC issued a preliminary update on phase two of the process, including cases of voter trucking and equipment malfunction. This report contains the findings and recommendations for the entire period of phase two observation.
Overall, reports from ECC observers in all nine counties and 37 electoral districts show that registration centers generally opened on schedule during phase two of the BVR process and with the necessary BVR kits available. Despite this, several of the centers observed continued to experience malfunctioning of equipment. ECC observers noted an improvement in the way NEC registration staff followed the application of procedures during registration such as in the request for verification of eligibility prior to enrolling applicants. However, ECC observed that proof of eligibility was primarily based on the sworn testimony of two registered voters or a traditional leader and by presenting a former voter registration card. Additionally, while the ECC recommended an increase in security presence at registration centers to cover phase two of the BVR, a relatively low security deployment was again observed, even though slightly higher than phase one. Political party representatives were present to observe the registration process in 163 of the 219 centers that the ECC observed, which is also an improvement over phase one. Voter trucking was observed during phase two.
The National Elections Commission (NEC) in consultations with political parties made a policy decision in 2022 to transition from the traditional Optical Mark Recognition (OMR) system to Biometric Voter Registration (BVR). This is the first time the BVR is being used to conduct voter registration in Liberia and if managed properly, can improve the quality of the elections. The biometric voter registration exercise was conducted in two phases, with each phase lasting approximately three weeks.
The second phase of the BVR was conducted in each of the nine counties from April 21 to May 11, 2023. ECC deployed 49 trained observers across the 37 electoral districts to monitor the implementation of BVR phase two. In all 37 electoral districts, a total of 1,015 voter registration centers were established by the NEC. On each designated day, ECC observers were posted at a particular registration center to monitor and document how the BVR exercise was conducted.
The process was conducted from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm daily. According to NEC registration procedures, all Liberian citizens, age 18 years or older, who are of sound mind and not a convicted criminal, were eligible to register, and all applicants were to present themselves at the nearest NEC registration centers to demonstrate their eligibility before registering. Each NEC registration center was staffed by a three member team comprising of a registrar supervising the assigned registration center, a clerk, responsible for data collection and entry for all eligible applicants, and a technician, having technical knowledge of the biometric registration kit, responsible to respond to any technical issue that may arise immediately. The registration procedures required all eligible voters to register in the location where they ordinarily reside to prevent trucking.
The ECC recommended that the NEC implement contingency measures to quickly address malfunctioning equipment while at the same time encouraging more security and party agents’ deployment to address some of the critical issues that marred phase one of the BVR process, such as equipment failure, low security deployment, violent incidents, and voter trucking. On the other hand, the ECC condemned incidences of violence and voter trucking, recommending investigations and holding those involved accountable. Despite this, throughout phase two, the ECC again noticed the same challenges and occurrences.
ECC Observation & Deployment Methodology
For phase two of the BVR process, the ECC trained and deployed 49 long-term observers, including 12 county coordinators and 37 electoral district observers. For phase one, the ECC had already deployed 43 trained observers, bringing the total number of long-term observers covering the entire BVR process to 92. ECC adopted both stationary and mobile observation methodologies during the observation of the BVR process:
Stationary Observation: County coordinators and district observers were deployed by ECC as stationary observers for the BVR observation. County coordinators monitored the objection and appeal procedures related to voter registration at the National Elections Commission (NEC) magisterial offices, while ECC district observers monitored designated voter registration centers. During the entire voter registration period, county coordinators observed for eight days (8) and electoral district observers for six days (6) at their designated locations. On each deployment day, observers submitted a report using a thorough checklist, followed by any critical incidents they may have seen.
Mobile Observation: All ECC county coordinators and district observers were also charged to roam within their respective counties and districts during non-stationary days, reporting any critical incidents observed. This indicates that in addition to the 220 centers covered, ECC observers were able to collect information about the BVR process from other areas of their respective districts and counties while moving around.
The ECC trained data clerks stationed at the ECC Data Center in Monrovia were responsible for verifying and confirming each incident reported to the ECC Data Center. Using coded messages, observers’ reports were sent to the ECC reporting system via their mobile phones, where they were later analyzed to produce updates.
Overall, the ECC received a total of 220 reports on the conduct of voter registration from all 37 electoral districts involved in the phase two process from its district observers stationed at voter registration centers. This report contains findings reported by observers and major incidents that occurred throughout the entire period of observation. Additionally, it contains updates on the observation at the NEC magistrates’ offices. All ECC observers were accredited by the NEC and permitted to observe at the registration centers and NEC magistrates’ offices on the designated days of observation. ECC observers covered the entire registration process from setup to opening and closing of centers.
Setup and Opening (see Charts 1 & 2 )
All NEC registration centers generally opened on time, between 8:00 am to 8:30 am with some of the centers opening late, after 8:30 a.m. as a result of the late arrival of staff, the lack of ink for the printer, shortage of cards, or a lack of electricity to power the equipment. Centers that opened on time were reported to be clearly identifiable to applicants and marked by signs.
u 193 of 220 registration centers opened on time, with only 26 of the centers opening late. ECC observed that the late opening of centers happened during the initial stage of the process and improved as the process progressed. However, Nimba and Lofa were seen to have the highest number of centers that opened late.
► 159 of 220 centers were seen to be accessible to persons with disabilities or special needs. However, 61 of the centers observed were located within buildings with stairs-making accessibility difficult;
► 3 registration staff were present at opening with at least one female observed to be a member of the team; This corresponds with the data from phase one of the process.
► 219 of 220 centers had a complete BVR kit present at opening with all the necessary forms (including rejection and complaint forms) and ledger for recording the names of successful applicants; This is also an improvement from phase one which had 4 centers missing a BVR kit based on 216 reports. Registration Procedures (Chart 3 & 4)
ECC observers noted an improvement in the way NEC registration staff followed the application of procedures during registration, such as in the request for verification of eligibility before enrolling applicants. However, ECC observed that proof of eligibility was primarily based on the sworn testimony of two registered voters or a traditional leader and by presenting a former voter registration card. There was also an improvement in applying the indelible ink for successful registrants. However, ECC still notes the inconsistency in filling out rejection forms for rejected applicants.
► At 216 of 219 registration centers, persons with disabilities, the elderly, and pregnant women were allowed to register before other applicants;
► At 185 of 219 registration centers, applicants were asked to present proof of eligibility before being registered, while in 34 of these centers, applicants were allowed to register without providing proof of eligibility. This is quite an improvement over phase one, when the ECC noted that in 64 of the total centers observed, the NEC staff did not request proof of eligibility. Despite this, ECC notes that proof of eligibility was centered around the sworn testimony of two registered voters or a traditional leader and by presenting a former voter registration card. Applicants in 139 of 185 registration centers that required proof of eligibility brought two registered voters or a traditional leader to testify on their behalf.
► At 215 of 219 registration centers, every successful applicant had his/her finger marked with indelible ink to minimize double registration.
► At 215 of 219 registration centers, applicants received their voter registration cards before leaving the center; The failure to present printed voter registration cards to the few processed applicants were due to card shortages or printer malfunction.
Equipment failure and card shortages were still notable challenges reported by ECC observers during phase two. Others include the failure to complete rejection forms for those who were turned down during registration:
► At 60 of 219 registration centers, the BVR equipment experienced malfunction but was quickly resolved, and at 14 of these centers, the malfunction caused serious delays to the process; This is similar to the extent to which the malfunctioning equipment affected phase one of the BVR.
► At 41 of 219 registration centers, the malfunctioning equipment was immediately fixed or replaced.
► At 64 of 219 registration centers, ECC observers reported that the NEC staff still did not fill the rejection form whenever an applicant was rejected.
ECC observers witnessed a total of 17,586 applicants successfully register, an average of 90 successful registrants per center based on 195 reports.
A relatively higher number of women were seen registering at observed centers. Women represented 43% of successful registrants observed by the ECC.
Overall, the average turnout rates were encouraging, especially for women throughout phase two of the process. The ECC encourages the NEC to release the registration figures by electoral districts in a timely manner.
Closing of registration centers
ECC observers reported closing of the registration centers generally by 5:30 pm; however, in a small component of these centers, applicants in line by 5:00 pm were not allowed to register.
► 162 of 218 centers observed by ECC closed between 5:00 pm to 5:30 pm and 54 of these centers were reported to close after 5:31 pm.
► Only in 9 of 219 registration centers observed were applicants in line by 5:00 pm not allowed to register.
Security (see Chart 5)
While the ECC recommended a stronger security deployment to cover phase two of the BVR, a relatively low-security deployment was again observed, even though slightly higher than phase one. 128 of 220 centers observed were reported to have uniformed security personnel present throughout the day. This is a marginal increase compared to phase one.
Party Agents (see chart 6)
Political party representatives were present to observe the BVR process in 163 of the 219 centers that the ECC observed, which is an improvement over phase one. However, regarding high agent deployment, the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) and the Unity Party (UP), deployed the most agents.
Objections & Appeals on Voter Registration
All county coordinators stationed at the NEC magistrates’ offices observed the objection and appeal processes related to voter registration. The complaints made during voter registration are supposed to be heard by the NEC during the objection and appeal hearings. Unlike the BVR phase one, which did not witness the conduct of any hearings, ECC observers reported four hearings that were confirmed to have occurred at the magistrates’ offices in the counties of Maryland and Rivercess. Hearings were held in Maryland about two cases of attempted registration by minors and registration attempts by immigrants from the nearby Ivory Coast. The ECC Maryland Coordinator claims that during each of these sessions, the rejected applicants were unable to present any proof of their eligibility. As a result, the Magistrate decided that they be banned from registering. Similar to this, a hearing concerning a rejected female applicant who was thought to be underage was held in Rivercess. It was established following the hearing that she was qualified to register.
ECC observers were instructed to immediately report any serious problem believed to threaten the integrity of the voter registration process. Despite the relatively low security deployment, the BVR phase two was generally peaceful. However, equipment failure and cases of voter trucking by aspirants were still notable challenges and occurrences reported by ECC observers. Others include failure to present printed voter registration cards to processed applicants due to card shortages or printer malfunction and failure to complete rejection forms for those who were turned down. Additionally, there were instances of the voter registration process being interrupted at a few locations due to disturbances made by either party supporters or regular applicants.
Equipment failure & shortage in BVR cards: During the observed period, ECC received reports of critical incidents involving equipment failure or malfunction, low power supply to the BVR kit and shortage in BVR cards. This caused the process to be significantly delayed in some cases and shut down for the full day in others. The affected centers’ names, area codes, and locations are listed below:
- Bong electoral district 01-Palala Public School with center code 06046;
- Bong electoral district 02-MD Massaquoi high school with code 06238;
- Bong electoral district 05-Guermue Public School with code 06053;
- Bong electoral district 06-Martha Tubman School with code: 06026;
- Bong electoral district 07-Kristen Marie high school with center code 06170
- Lofa electoral district 01- Fassapoe town hall, Foya with center code 21020;
- Nimba electoral district 08-Kpoahpa Whenten Public School with center code 33181;
Voter trucking: Applicants were seen being trucked for the BVR phase two in the counties of Bong, Lofa, Nimba, and Grand Kru, according to ECC observers. Since the start of BVR phase two, candidates have engaged in open voter trucking, and neither the NEC nor the Ministry of Justice has taken any action to stop this serious electoral violation. Below are documented instances of trucking reported by ECC observers:
- Lofa electoral district 01- Foya, at Sengar Palava hut with center code 21083: ECC observer reported the trucking of voters to the registration center, orchestrated by Representative Thomas P. Fallah. The group was intercepted by citizens who attempted to stop them from registering, which interfered with the registration process.
- Bong electoral district 03- Meleki Town hall with center code 06085: Motorbikes and Kehkeh were seen transporting applicants to the registration center. ECC observer received reports that this act was being financed by Representative Melvin Cole office in Monrovia.
- Nimba electoral district 05: Aspirant James Somah, was reported to have allegedly trucked applicants in a pickup from Ganta District 1 to Yao Lehpula, District 5, which resulted in a tragic motor accident leading to the death of at least three persons, leaving several wounded.
- Nimba electoral district 07- It was reported that aspirant Musa Bility was involved with trucking of applicants to Saclepea who were non-inhabitants.
- Grand Kru County: ECC received reports of Electoral District 1 candidate Alfred Boe and Senate Pro-Tempore Albert Chea being allegedly involved with voter trucking in Grand Kru from Maryland and other areas of the country.
Reports of Underaged Registration: 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. Below are accounts of the incidents from the two counties:
Grand Kru: The ECC observer reported that the Lutheran Church, with center code 18018, as well as other areas in the county, were impacted by incidents of underage registration. According to the ECC observer, the testimonies of these children’s parents, who served as witnesses and attested to their eligibility as required by the NEC’s Regulation, led to the incidents. The NEC Magistrate issued additional instructions to Registrars, instructing them to ask parents who visit the facility to certify the age of their children to sign a bond before proceeding with the registration in order to regulate the situation.
Lofa: In Foya, Electoral District 01- 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. The ECC Coordinator claims that this prompted 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 false claims.
The ECC proposes the following recommendations for consideration:
- In order to increase transparency, ECC calls on the NEC to invite representatives from political parties and national and international observation groups to observe the downloading of data and the de-duplication process.
- That the NEC informs the public on the timing of the release of phase two preliminary results.
- Lastly, that the NEC is encouraged as in phase one to release the phase two results disaggregated by electoral districts.
- Political parties and aspirants are advised to file a formal complaint with the NEC if they have concerns about phase two or the outcomes of the process.
▪ That all registered voters should take advantage the Exhibition exercise, which is set for June 12–17, 2023, to verify their information on the provisional registration list.
The Elections Coordinating Committee (ECC) is Liberia’s largest domestic election observation network with diverse competencies, experiences, and expertise in democracy, elections, and governance established since 2010. ECC’s members include the Center for Democratic Governance (CDG); Center for Media Studies and Peace Building (CEMESP); Center for Conflict Prevention and Peacebuilding (CECPAP); Institute for Research and Democratic Development (IREDD); Naymote Partners for Democratic Development (NAYMOTE-PADD); West Africa Network for Peace Building (WANEP), and the Women NGO Secretariat of Liberia (WONGOSOL). The ECC election observation effort is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development
(USAID). “The contents of this update are the responsibility of the ECC and does not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.”
Table 1: NEC Registration Centers for Phase two
|Distribution of ECC Observers and NEC Registration Centers by County-BVR Phase-two
|# of NEC
Centers in 2017
|# of NEC
Centers in 2023
|# ECC District Observers deployed for BVR phase-two
# of NEC
Registration centers observed for BVR phase-two
Kindly download a copy of the full report here: ECC BVR Report #2_Final