Liberia: On 2nd Thoughts – Weighing in On the NEC’s Biometric Voters’ Registration (BVR) Process

Voters’ Registration has remained one of the most complex and contested areas of an election process in every country.

In Liberia, the situation is even worse going toward the 2023 general and presidential elections due to the lack of the conduct of a population census and reliable identification documents or ID Cards.

As if that was not enough, the current voters’ register under the Optical Manual Voters Registration (OMVR) system is nothing to write about and thus definitely needs an overhaul.

The OMVR system to many lacks transparency and accountability owing to the level of controversies and mistrust surrounding the process. The Supreme Court in 2017 ordered the cleaning of the present voters’ roll, yet many still doubt that such was done effectively to eliminate future fraud.

Therefore, one would argue that under such a situation the decision by the National Elections Commission (NEC) to use biometric voters’ registration technology ahead of the 2023 general and presidential elections is a decision that should be welcomed by all well-meaning Liberians, especially at the time the Liberian Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services (LISGIS) is still toying with the conduct of census.

Although the biometric voter registration system will not solve all the electoral problems, it would eliminate the most common manipulations and voter fraud associated with the OMVR system to automatically delete-multiple registrations and voting.

The use of the BVR technology would capture unique physical features of an individual, with fingerprints being the most common of these features. This is helpful for the demographics of the voter, for polling registration and/or authentication.

The decision by the National Elections Commission to move towards biometrics should also be seen as a step by the Board of Commissioners to play an apolitical role in the upcoming elections since many view the current Board of Commissioners as being sympathetic towards the ruling establishment.

Thus, one would expect a broad agreement across party lines for the need for its application and that doing so would show a demonstrated desire by all stakeholders in resolving the voter registration problems that have beclouded the conduct of elections here.

However, let it be noted that expectations regarding biometric solutions can sometimes be over-exaggerated. In fact, this is partly so because the introduction of new biometric technologies, or any technology for that matter can create a new set of challenges.

The argument here is while some voter registration problems can indeed be addressed by biometrics, manipulation and malpractice can never be prevented by technology alone. Costs and sustainability are other concerns.

Less we forget that voter registration is one of the most important processes conducted by an election body but very costly in terms of time and resources.

Equally so, the NEC should also adequately address concerns being raised by stakeholders. Its explanation regarding how it intends to use this technology to cover rural voters requires further education.

The use of regional internet connectivity — using either Lonestar, Cellcom, or Libtelco internet boosters and at the same time, manual voter registration for subsequent uploading into the ‘NEC Cloud sounds ambiguous and requires further explanation.

There are other concerns that need to be addressed by NEC relating to voters trucking in areas with little or no internet access. The need to take a cursory look at this is very important as the BVR cannot curb this practice.https://thenewdawnliberia.com/nec-launches-biometric-voters-feasibility-studies/

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