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Liberia and Biometric Voters Registration ahead of October’s Elections

Ahead of Liberia’s Presidential and Legislative elections, dated October this year, the country has decided to conduct a biometric voters’ registration process through the National Elections Commission (NEC). 

Biometric registration produces a credible voter registration roll and, by extension, credible elections, as has been witnessed across the globe. Through this explainer, DUBAWA will explore the biometric registration process in Liberia and how it works.

What is Biometrics?

Biometrics is body measurements and calculations related to human characteristics. Biometric authentication is used in computer science as a form of identification and access control.   

According to INNOVATRICS ABIS, Biometric Voter Registration System is a complete solution combining customisable registration software, accurate biometric de-duplication and automated detection of children or minors based on AI-powered age estimation.

Biometric Voter Registration also involves using computers, fingerprint scanners and digital cameras to capture the bio-data of individuals within a system. It uses unique features of a voter’s physical characteristics, including facial features or fingerprints and demographic data, to identify a person.

According to the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), “All biometric data is first captured by a camera or sensor as an image. The image is then processed into a biometric template and stored in a database paired with given information, such as the person’s name and birthdate. These images make up their voter profile. Through the widespread collection, a biometric voter register is created.”

How Biometric Voters Registration Works

According to the IDEA, the technology targets identity theft, multiple voting and other voter fraud and manipulation mechanisms. It also presents an opportunity to provide better electoral rolls and the integrity of elections.  

Story before Biometric

Prior to the introduction of the Biometric Voters’ Registration process, the National Elections Commission in the past has been using Optical Manual Registration for the registration process during the elections period.

In 2020, the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) demanded the clean-up of the voter’s Registration Roll (VRR) used during the 2017 and 2020 presidential and legislative elections.

This call by the CPP led to a team of IT experts from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) coming to Liberia to assist the NEC in cleaning up the national voter roll.

Also, during the use of the old system, there were allegations of multiple registrations by applicants and the process of voters being used across the country. For instance, one person used to register more than once but at different locations across the country without being detected by the system, thus leading to fraud during the election process.  

According to the head of the National Elections Commission (NEC), Madam Davidetta Browne Lansanah, the system’s transition would greatly help the election process in Liberia.

Madam Browne Lansanah voiced, “the disadvantages of the old OMR system include duplicate records from the Voters Registration System; and the issues related to unintentional errors during the data entry process.”

Why is Biometric important?

The credibility of a voter registration roll gives rise to credible, free, fair and transparent elections in any country, and Liberia is no exception.

Over the years, the Biometric system has become the safest way of producing a credible voter registration roll for any country’s election process.

As a result, the Liberian government, through the National Elections Commission (NEC) in 2022, announced using a biometric voters’ registration process to safeguard the Voters’ Registration Roll (VRR) to deliver credible elections.

On February 24, 2023, the NEC officially launched the Biometric Voters’ Registration exercise process. The process is expected to kick-start on March 20, 2023, and has since announced vacancies for qualified Liberians to conduct the exercise.

According to the NEC boss, using Liberia’s Biometric Voter Registration System will greatly help the country’s electoral processes. Thus, it will help prevent multiple applicant registrations and proper identification of voting precincts.

Addressing a news conference, Madam Browne Lansanah announced using a biometric voter-identification system, which she said would prevent electoral fraud and chaos during the elections period, a situation that has always marred previous elections.

Madam Lansanah put the cost of the biometric project at about US$ 12 million but may face some hitches, according to a Front Page Africa (FPA) report.

Contrary to the newspaper’s report, the company in charge of the project, Laxton, has rejected the report, saying that Liberia’s Biometric Voters’ Registration System is on course.

History of the Biometric Contract

The award of the Biometric contract to Laxton Group was mired by huge controversy and an in-house fight between the National Elections Commission (NEC) and the Public Procurement and Concession Commission (PPCC).

It was reported that the PPCC granted a “no objection” to the NEC, which led to the NEC awarding the contract to Lexton Group after a bidding process.

The NEC carried out the first bidding exercise. Still, the PPCC rejected it because the two companies that won first and second place did not meet the standard to be awarded the contract, thus ordering another round of bidding process that saw Laxton Group becoming the contractor.

What do Liberians think about the BVR Process?

DUBAWA engaged the views of Liberians about the Biometric Voters’ Registration exercise and what they believe would be the impact of the system.

Representative Rustonlyn Suacoco Dennis of Montserrado County District #4 said that in as much as biometric registration is good, she believes that the country’s electoral system is not yet prepared to absorb it. 

Representative Dennise stated, “a biometric system has never been tested at the community level or during the country’s recent by-elections. As such, it may not be prudent to use it to determine the outcome of the Presidential & Representative elections.”

Martin Nyankun is a Liberian who this researcher engaged while boarding a taxi on Broad Street in Central Monrovia. Nyankun told DUBAWA that the BVR process is good because it will help protect the integrity of the country’s electoral process.

Nyankun stated, “though it will be our first time, we can do it. Other countries have done it; therefore, we, too, can do it. The beginning of everything is challenging, but with the level of work we as a country and people are willing to put in, we can achieve this together.”

The Elections Coordinating Committee (ECC), a leading civil society network responsible for promoting electoral integrity in Liberia, has also welcomed the move by the NEC to transition to the BVR system.

According to an ECC statement, the technology, if properly set up, would add value to the quality of the electoral process, thereby reducing double registration, automatic deduplication fraud, and manipulation of the voter roll.

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