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Several Foreigners to Vote in the October General and Presidential Elections.


On Wednesday February First of this week, the national elections of Liberia started registering Liberian voters for the upcoming general and presidential elections, slated for October of this year, 2017. A number of Liberians look extremely happy to partake in the process. Liberian children, who were only six in 2005, are among today’s adults who could be voting for the first time. Actually, a recent census count puts the youth population at around seventy percent.

No doubts, the tasks of policing general and presidential elections are extremely tough. How do you prevent citizens from our regional sister states from partaking? How do you verify Liberian citizenship during the registration process? What are some of the documents required to register?

Are there vetting systems in place for people residing within our leeward territories and far-faraway principalities? How do you prevent multiplicity of registration outside of a national database system? How do you prevent me from registering in Paynesville, White Plains, and Bomi at the same time?

There are too many outstanding questions to address. In earlier statements, the Liberian Elections Commission promised to ensure that all 2.8 million eligible Liberian voters get a taste of the electoral pie. Meanwhile, it is disheartening to say, that the voter’s registration cards appear extremely substandard, and may lack any digital software device that could prevent duplication or transfer from person to person.

The number of issues that may cast doubts on the integrity of the process is simply too enormous. For instance, in 2011, according to the commission, 1,798,930 registrations were processed 51 percent were male, and 49 percent were female. However, three years later in the last gone 2014 legislative election, some 1,903,229 registered to vote.

The percentage of male voters spiked to 52 representing a one percentage increment 986,190, compared to their female counterparts at 48 percent or 917,039. The number of young adults or youth demographic (18-22) who registered to vote represented the largest voting group at 445,924. In 2011 or three years earlier, the 18-22 voting group was only 84,976.

But, this increment of 360,948 demonstrates the growth of our youth population. We are back to three years later.

Click here to access report:

http://www.necliberia.org/pg_img/Voter%20Registration%20(2011)%20Statistics%20(4).pdf. See report for 2014: http://www.necliberia.org/pg_img/VRUREPORT_2014_Final1.pdf.

On the other hand, the commission may have also taken steps to curtail fraud and other foreseeable malpractices. For instance, each voter is assigned a 9-digit unique voter identification number and thumb print. Currently, there are 19 to 22 registered political parties, and about 2080 voting precincts. The commission is looking to expand it voting functions.

It is this network’s opinion that NEC could have done slightly more to improve the quality of the voter’s registration cards to digital, and process from manual to digital. This is simply the registration process, and not the actual voting itself. Therefore, keeping people in line for many hours may impact the outcome negatively.

In Liberia, who is eligible to vote in the midst of a wave of regional migration from Guinea, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Ghana, and others into Liberia? The law requires you to vote in Liberia if you are a Liberian citizen either by birth or naturalization, you are 18 year old.

One of the major functions of voting station officials is to determine whether voters turning out to vote at a voting station are in fact eligible to vote at that voting station. Eligibility requirements that need to be satisfied for a voter to be issued a ballot need to be clearly specified in legislation. The effectiveness of the application of procedures for determining if a person is eligible to vote in an election is one of the crucial determinants of the overall integrity of the election process.

Ways to determine eligibility

Three significant questions must be answered in determining an intending voter's eligibility to

vote:

  • Is the person who he claims to be? Either through presentation of identity documents or by other means, is the voting station official satisfied that the voter is not impersonating someone else?

  • Is the voter on the voters list for that voting station, or otherwise qualified to vote at that voting station?

  • Does it show that the voter already voted in this election, and if so does this preclude another ballot being issued?

These are best undertaken as an integrated check, immediately before the voter is issued a ballot (or ballot envelope, when these are the controlled materials). In all circumstances, eligibility checking, including any checks of voter identity should be undertaken by a properly authorized voting station official, not by police or other security personnel stationed at the voting station. There is no generic system for implementing these controls in all circumstances. The intensity of procedures adopted will depend on a number of factors, including:

  • Risk analyses of possible manipulations;

  • The level of community trust;

  • Accuracy and availability of relevant documentation.

What is appropriate in transitional elections may be excessive and heavy handed in environments with a history of election integrity.

Importance of Consistency

One important factor is that the eligibility tests are consistently applied by voting station officials, both throughout all voting stations and to all persons attending to vote. Inconsistency in application will raise valid questions about election integrity. Achievement of consistency can be of particular importance where:

  • There is a range of identity documentation, or documents possibly of unverifiable authenticity, that voters may use to prove eligibility;

  • There are inaccuracies in voters’ lists, through errors in compilation, or voters having moved since the compilation of the lists.

Reasonably equitable voter eligibility checking systems take account of such errors (for example that, the elector's name may be misspelled or reversed, address details may have been erroneously transcribed to the certified voters list or may not be current) and would err on the side of the voter, allowing any significant perceived problems to be dealt with by means of challenge to the election.

Where such subjective judgment has to be applied by voting station officials, clear guidelines for their actions, and supervision to ensure that these are implemented consistently, are necessary.

  • The overall level of integrity provided by voter eligibility checking will very much depend on the quality of the voters lists.

  • It is also likely to be easier to check voter eligibility in smaller voting stations with staff drawn from the local community.

Basic Approaches

In general, there are two ways of approaching voter eligibility checks:

  • In an active manner, by requiring voters to prove that they are eligible, that is, by requiring voters to produce some defined identity document, to show in some manner that they have not already voted in the election and possibly to have an exact match with details recorded on the voters list;

  • In a passive manner, by relying on an oral or written statement to a voting station official by voters regarding their identity, the match with details on the voters list and that they have not already voted. Appropriate and cost-effective procedures could combine elements of each of these two approaches.

The basic consideration is: eligibility checking mechanisms to be very high integrity checks that will absolutely prevent anyone not eligible from voting, very possibly at the expense of some eligible voters being turned away, or are they to be more realistically targeted at eliminating significant or systematic manipulation, through maintaining some flexibility in order to maximize participation?

Efficiency of the Eligibility Checking Process

Effectiveness of eligibility checks can be enhanced if:

The eligibility check is carried out by voting station officials immediately before, and at the same table as, the issue of accountable voting materials (ballots and/or envelopes);

There is opportunity for officials to challenge the eligibility of any intending voter, and either to have this adjudicated by the voting station manager (or other senior voting station official) following the swearing of a declaration as to eligibility by the voter, or to allow challenged voters to vote only by way of a provisional ballot.

In some systems, party or candidate representatives may also challenge whether a voter is eligible to be issued voting material, though more often this right is restricted to challenging inclusion of these votes in counts.

Voter eligibility checks can efficiently be applied by a single voting station official with the combined functions of eligibility checking, marking the voters list, and issuing voting materials (ballots and/or ballot envelopes). However, it is common that functions of eligibility checking and ballot or ballot envelope issue are assigned to separate officials.

On balance, this may be a more costly method. It may provide some additional integrity through cross-checking between the staff but is often the result of lack of confidence in staff professionalism or additional extraneous tasks, adding little to integrity, being loaded on to these officials.

If multiple voting controls include the marking of voters with special ink, a second voter eligibility control official engaged in checking voters for ink marks and for applying the ink will generally be required.

Voters Eligible for More than One Vote

Under some systems of elections at local government levels, voters may be entitled to vote more than once, in respect of their domicile and also of any other rated property owned or leased by the voter.

While the philosophy behind such systems may be open to question, where they are used, the compilation of certified voters lists, preparation of voters lists, and voting station procedures for determining voter eligibility and preventing multiple voting will need to be adapted to allow such voters their legal entitlement to more than one vote.

Similarly, in systems where proxy voting is allowed, proof of eligibility will need to be established in regard to each vote being claimed by proxy voters.

Multiple voting controls based on marking voters with ink will be more difficult to implement where proxy voting is allowed.

Voter Identity Checks

The first step in checking voter eligibility is to determine if voters are who they claim to be. This should be established before moving to check if the voter's name appears on the voters list at the voting station.

It would be more usual, and generally seen as necessary for voting integrity (for public perceptions, even if not to combat real risks) for voters to show a specified document or documents to prove their identity. The most simple and cost-effective means of checking voter identity is through requiring voters to present a nationally recognized identity card of high integrity.

Determination of Valid Identity Documents

Whatever documents may be used for establishing identity in the voting station, the identification system must maintain equity and, as far as possible, simplicity in defining the relevant document or documents required to prove identity. In implementing proof of identity systems for voting there are some useful principles to use as a guide:

• It is best that a single, unique form of document be used as the basis of establishing voter identity.

• Where a range of documents or a combination of documents is acceptable, the range should be kept to the minimum required to cover all eligible voters. This issue is more likely to arise in post-conflict situations where administrative identity systems have broken down and there is insufficient time or finances to develop specific voter identity cards for the election. The acceptance of both military and civilian documents as identifiers should generally be avoided.

Where a range of documents may be used to prove identity, additional controls on multiple voting, such as marking the voter with ink, may be required, particularly if voters lists are not of high quality.

  • Eligible voters must have had equitable opportunity to obtain the identity document(s) required for voting. (This may be important where elections are rushed as a conflict resolution mechanism in post-conflict or new state situations.);

  • The identity document or documents required should not be easily forged.

  • Documents bearing a photograph or other high integrity personal characteristics of the voter would preferably be used.

Without these, the documents may be too easily transferable and add nothing to voting integrity. Using signed documents and requiring some form of signature check (on an application or receipt for voting materials) against an identity document has significant disadvantages; it will slow the voting process, is not reliable (officials are not handwriting experts), and creates problems for illiterate voters.

  • The required document(s) must be public knowledge and voting station officials made totally aware of what is acceptable.

  • Where a range of identity documents is acceptable, voters must be treated equitably no matter what acceptable identity document they choose to use.

Voter Identification Cards

It is becoming more common that voter identity is established by showing some form of receipt for voter registration or a voter identification card issued for the election. This additional measure may be particularly useful where there is no general national identity card system of sufficient integrity.

Production of a high integrity voter identification card eliminates the need for any other proof of identity to be shown in the voting station (instead these checks are undertaken at the registration stage).

Surrendering or cancelling of the card in the voting station can also provide an effective multiple voting control. High integrity cards would normally bear a non-removable/alterable photograph of the voter. Development of other voter identification systems (using developments in technology for thumb print recognition, voice and retinal imaging) is also current.

However, in determining whether specific voter identification cards are required, all associated costs and the longer-term sustainability of production must be considered.

Their use would be justified in environments where there is likely to be sufficient contention over voting eligibility that lack of a high integrity identity mechanism specifically for voting could affect overall acceptance of election outcomes.

Applications to Vote

High integrity control on voter identity can be achieved, where no national identity card system exists, by requiring each voter to complete an application to vote (or finalize an application pre-printed from registration records) on arrival at the voting station.

The details on this application, including voter's signature, are then compared with original registration records provided in the voting station to determine if the voter should be issued voting material.

While this method can achieve integrity in assessing voter eligibility and preventing multiple voting, it is a comparatively slow, cumbersome method of processing voters, with big disadvantages in societies of lower literacy and requires voting station officials to make quick judgments on handwriting comparisons.

Declaration by Voter

There are systems in which identity checking consists solely of voters orally declaring to the voting station official that they are who they claim to be, and there is little if any evidence that this openness is abused.

While this may be appropriate in societies where there is a tradition of political restraint, transparency, and community trust, it is not a model that is generally applicable.

Location of Identity Checking

Where documents proving identity are to be shown at the voting station by voters, checks can effectively be instituted in two stages:

  1. An initial check on entry to the voting station, to ensure that voters have the relevant documents with them and turning away any voters without the required documentation (for discussion of voting station entry controls, see Crowd and Queue Control). Service to voters can be enhanced by questioning voters on entry, or while queuing to vote, to determine if they are at the correct voting station and advise them accordingly (see Crowd and Queue Control).

  2. A check of identity as part of a full eligibility check by the official controlling the voters list, prior to being issued a ballot and/or ballot envelope. Voters should be asked to present the required identification documents to the official for inspection.

Eligibility to Vote at a Voting Station

Following confirmation of the voter's identity, the next step in establishing eligibility to vote is to determine whether the voter is eligible to vote at that voting station. It is preferable that certified voters’ lists be used for this check, rather than relying purely on voter identification cards or on some external source prepared for some other purpose, such as civil lists. Inclusion of a voter on the voters list used in the voting station would generally be regarded as proof of a voter's right to vote at that voting station; if the list includes voters believed to be ineligible, this may be a matter for later challenge.

Checking Against Voters List

In undertaking this check, the voters list should be searched for the voter's name (with reference to the identity document provided by the voter where these are required), and if found, the name and particulars confirmed with the voter. The voters list is then marked to indicate that the voter is issued a ballot.

Depending on how the lists are to be later processed, the manner of marking may differ. Where manual reconciliations of voters marked on voters lists to ballots and/or accountable ballot envelopes issued are to be undertaken, it would be usual and prudent to draw a line through both the voter's name and serial number on the certified voters list. If certified voters lists are later to be processed electronically, special marking means may be required.

Standard Marking of Names on Voters Lists

Care should be taken to ensure that all voters' names are marked accurately and in the same manner. Some issues to consider include:

  • Marking of voters on the list should be clear and precise to aid calculation, after the close of voting, of total voters supposedly issued with ballots and/or accountable ballot envelopes (for use in reconciliations).

  • The voter's entry on the list should not be totally obliterated; there may be a need to refer to it later in case an incorrect marking has been made.

  • Where a voters list entry has been erroneously fully or partially ruled through, this should be clearly indicated by the voting station official through use of an initialed standard mark.

  • Use of a ruler can assist the voting station official to mark cleanly through the voter's name and serial number, as long as writing implements with non-smudging ink are used.

  • Accountability for marking of voters lists is important.

  • Particularly where there is more than one official with the duty of marking names off voters’ lists, the names of the officials responsible should be clearly indicated on the cover of each voters list or section of the list.

Common Problems Encountered

There are a number of common problems that may arise with checking of voters' names against the voters list.

Hopefully, as many as possible of these potential problems will have been ascertained before the voter reaches the table for eligibility checking and for receiving ballots (or ballot envelopes), and either solved or the voter directed to the voting station manager or voter information officials.

Where the voter's name cannot be found on the voters list, this could indicate that:

  • The voter is not registered at all;

  • The voter is registered at another voting station;

  • There is some difference in the name/details provided by the voter, and the details as they appear on the certified voters list;

  • There has been an error in preparation of the voters list, resulting in omission of the voter's details.

On the contrary, where the voter's name and details cannot immediately be matched to an entry on the voters list, the voting station official should not make an immediate assumption that the voter is not eligible to vote. This is a poor service standard to provide; the principle of maximizing valid participation in the election should be kept in mind.

However, lengthy checking of the voters list by eligibility checking officials can considerably delay other voters. If, after a reasonable check, the voter cannot be found on the voters list, the voter should be directed to the voting station manager for assistance.

If the voting station manager finds that the voter is listed on the voters list, the voter would then be returned to the voting materials issuing area. If the voter's name is not found, the voting station manager would most likely undertake the appropriate action for voters not on the voting station's list (for further discussion of this issue, see Voters Not Found on Voters Lists).

Matching Voter to Voters List Entry

Where no immediate exact match to a voters list entry can be made, eligibility checking officials should carefully check the voter’s list and question the voter to ensure that:

• The voter's name has not been misspelled, or given/family names jumbled in order on the list. Care needs to be taken regarding voters from minority cultures, who may be known under different names peculiar to their culture, or whose given/family names may appear on the list in an order different from that used in their culture. Further investigation of the voter's identity documents may help clarify such an issue.

• The person has changed name since registration, for example, by taking another name after marriage. Equity would require that these voters be accepted as eligible to vote; integrity would require evidence, by means of a statement provided by the voter, or other evidence, of a link between the two names.

• The voter's current address (as shown either on an application for a ballot, the required identity card, or in questioning by voting station officials) is different from what is on the voters list.

Procedures for handling such occurrences can vary widely according to how restrictive the proof of eligibility and integrity controls required by electoral legislation is.

Where the address on the voters list can be shown to be incorrect as a result of an error in voters list processing, equity would demand the voter be allowed to vote.

Where the address on the voters list and any other address provided by the voter are within the same electoral district, both integrity and equity can be served by a legal framework that still allows the voter to vote; the vote, however, may need to be supported by a formal declaration of eligibility by the voter.

Where these addresses are in different electoral districts, and it can be established that the address on the certified voters list is a recent former address of the voter, in systems which place the emphasis on maximizing participation, it could still be argued that it is preferable to allow the voter to vote in some fashion, provided that there are sufficient controls on multiple voting.

In circumstances where voters whose details cannot be matched exactly on the voters list may be deemed eligible to vote need strict definition in election legislation or rules, and consistent application of procedures by voting station officials.

The extent of such problems will be influenced by the comprehensiveness of voter registration measures, the quality control in voters' list preparation, and the quality of the identity documents required.

Voters Already Marked as Having Voted

Conversely, on looking up the name in the voters list, the official may find that the voter's name has already been marked as having received voting materials. This could be due to either the voter having already voted or the voter's name having previously been marked in error for another voter.

The problem is, how to separate the voting station official errors (which may well occur, particularly with families with similar or the same names at the same address) from attempts to vote more than once.

Where multiple voting controls (such as marking voters with ink, surrendering or canceling of voter identification cards, requiring voters to sign a record when issued a ballot) have been effectively implemented, a voter who has passed these checks but who is found to be already marked as having voted on the voters list could be presumed to have been marked on the list in error.

Equitable systems would contain procedures to allow these voters to be issued with a ballot.

Where the voter’ list is the sole control on multiple voting, it is more difficult to determine correctly. These are not matters for the voting station official to determine. Assistance and decision should be sought from the voting station manager, with, no doubt, opinions from party or candidate representatives present.

Systems that would allow voters in such cases to vote in the normal fashion after swearing a declaration that they have not previously voted, or to cast a sealed tendered or provisional ballot, with later determination of validity by a court or tribunal (or where it is of trusted integrity, the electoral management body), can assist resolution in the voting station. Any such occurrences should be noted by the voting station manager in reports on voting station operations.

Announcement of Voter's Names

In some systems an additional function of the official checking the voters list is, having found the voter's name on the certified voter’s list, to call out the serial number or name of the voter for the benefit of all present including observers and party and candidate representatives.

The serial number and/or name may also be recorded on a ballot stub or list of voters. The supposed benefits are in enhanced transparency and in better control of materials issue. This practice can give rise to misconceptions about voting secrecy and is better avoided.

Prevention of Multiple Voting

As part of the voter eligibility checks, the voting station official must check that the voter has not previously voted. The intensity of this control will very much vary with the environment. Use of accurate, unique lists is the most cost-effective control to prevent multiple voting.

Provided that lists are unique and are carefully and accurately marked by voting station officials, they will immediately show when a voter is attempting to vote more than once. Where apparent multiple voters make claims that errors have been made in marking of lists, these will need to be dealt with as described under "Voters Already Marked as Having Voted" above.

In systems where each voters list is not unique, or there are doubts about their accuracy, or if national identity documentation systems are weak, additional multiple voting controls will be needed.

Depending on the security risk environment and the need to allay public fears of multiple voting, this could be accomplished by methods of varying intensity, including:

• before issuing accountable voting materials, requiring all voters to make a verbal or written declaration that they have not voted before in this election;

• the surrendering or defacing of unique special voter identification cards or stamping of other identity cards;

• marking voters with special inks when they vote.

Use of Special Ink

Marking voters with special indelible ink when issuing ballots has become more common, particularly in transitional elections, but it is an expensive mechanism.

For security, safety, and aesthetic reasons, indelible inks of secret composition, a determinate lifespan, and visible only under special (usually ultra violet) light are better used.

The additional costs incurred, in ink production, supply of special light equipment, and the need to engage at least one additional staff member per voting station to implement this control, can be considerable.

While this is an effective method, alternative measures such as ensuring accuracy of unique voters lists are less costly, more sustainable, and make marking of voters redundant.

However, where other controls are weak, or where there is a need to present a strong image of integrity control to the public for acceptance of election validity, the additional costs of using special ink as a multiple voting control can be justified.

Where special inks are used, the voter should be checked to determine if the specified body part has been marked with ink prior to checking identity or voters’ list entry. In some situations this could be done on entry to the voting station, usually this would occur just prior to other eligibility checks. If the mark is revealed, the voter should be removed from the voting station. If not, identity and other eligibility checks proceed.

After the voter has been found on the voters list, or otherwise deemed eligible to vote, the voter is marked with the special ink. If done before this point, voters who have turned out at the wrong voting station may then find themselves unable to vote at the correct one.

The ink must be applied in a consistent fashion, to specified fingers or hands either by dipping in a container or application by a device. If inks invisible to the naked eye are used, the voter should be immediately tested under the appropriate light to ensure that the ink has been applied correctly.

Fraud Control through Use of Voter Identification Cards

Voter identification cards, issued by the electoral management body, could alternatively be used as a control on multiple voting, as long as these are high integrity photographic or similarly personalized cards that must be surrendered or canceled when the voter is issued voting materials.

Without a photograph, or other easily distinguishing personal mark of the voter, such cards can be easily bought, traded, or stolen, and their effectiveness as both an identity and multiple voting controls is very low.

Our next analysis will evaluate the setting up of electoral databases as opposed to manual log books. Setting up database requires diligence, but pays off in the long run. To simply carry around a big log book where names of potential voters are logged is indeed a stone-aged-old practice. In addition, there is the question of how do you determine whether or not a registrant’s voting eligibility?

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Edmond Remie Gray, is one of your humble hosts and Founder and President of Radio Wish FM. He can be reached at remiegray@gmail.com
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