ExplainersMainstreamMedia LiteracySierra Leone

Sierra Leone 2023 Election: Tracking the differences between voter and national identity cards

Sierra Leoneans are no strangers to Identity Cards (IDs), whether Voter IDs or National IDs, citizens have been impressed upon to acquire them for one use or another.

Since the start of February 2023, Sierra Leoneans and foreign nationals have been collecting National ID cards from the National Civil Registration Authority (NCRA). The collection of these IDs is after four years of registration and printing.

Production of the National ID cards was outsourced to a tech firm, Constrat Systems SL Ltd. The national ID was launched by President Bio in January this year, after which the process of mass distribution of the ID cards commenced.

How does this relate to the 2023 elections?

With the general election fast approaching, many people have a heightened sense of curiosity from many people about election information. This curiosity creates an atmosphere rife with misinformation about the electioneering process. 

The Electoral Commission for Sierra Leone (ECSL) has announced that Voter Registration IDs will be distributed from the 17th to the 26th of March this year. The announcement was made on the Epic Morning Show between 53:00 to 54:44.

Since both ID cards will be distributed within the same period, there is a possibility that people will likely use one card for the other. This possibility is also closer to reality, given that ECSL staff did voter registration alongside NCRA staff across the country last year. During the voter registration process, names were confirmed on the civil register by NCRA staff and were entered into the ECSL database for the 2023 election.

Difference between the Voter ID and National ID

Both documents are national and can be used as a form of identity in several institutions in the country and abroad. For instance, in the absence of a National ID card, banks have accepted Voter ID for banking transactions in the last four years.

Sierra Leone 2023 Election: Tracking the differences between voter and national identity cards
Photo of the new National ID issued by NCRA.

For the production of the IDs, two public institutions have been sanctioned by law to produce either of the two- the ECSL and the NCRA.

Sierra Leone 2023 Election: Tracking the differences between voter and national identity cards
A sample of the Voter ID that was issued for the 2018 election.

ECSL is the only institution responsible for producing Voter Registration IDs according to the law. This falls within their responsibility as the body with legal powers to deal with all electioneering-related responsibilities. 

So, what does the NCRA do? The Deputy Public Education Officer of the NCRA, Amadu Juana-Kamanda, explains; 

“We record vital life events, from births, marriage, death, divorce, adoption and more.”

Citing the 2016 act, he said they are also responsible for producing National IDs and giving National Identification Numbers (NIN).

The data for the current ID card is being generated from the national civil register. The data is also used by other institutions in the country, from banks to hospitals and insurance companies.

So, what are the differences between these two documents? The difference between these two national ID cards starts from how they look to where they can be used.

The major difference between using both ID cards is that the ECSL-issued Voter ID can be used for voting, while the National ID issued by NCRA cannot be used for voting.

“The national ID card is multipurpose, but that purpose does not include election. We don’t have anything to do with the election,” Kamanda said.

A second difference is that, unlike the Voter ID, which can only be used in Sierra Leone, people who decide to take the ECOWAS ID cards, different from the basic national ID, could use it across the sub-region. 

ECOWAS ID is an optional ID card for frequent travellers across the region. People who opt to take it pay a different amount. However, it is not compulsory, unlike the National ID.

Director of Media and Communication at ECSL Raymond George also emphasised this in an interview with DUBAWA.

“The ID cards are not the same; the voter ID card is not an ECOWAS-compliant card like the one NCRA produces. We are just producing ours for voting and will laminate it. It won’t match the standard of the national ID,” he said.

Explaining some of the features of the National ID, Kamanda also said the card has advanced security features, including a chip that can swipe your information on devices like POS.

“With this ID card, you can even swipe on devices at the airport for those who want to take an ECOWAS-compliant ID card,” Kamanda said.

Another major difference is that Voter ID cards will only be issued to Sierra Leoneans, given they are the only ones allowed to register to vote. This is different from national ID; there is a category of national ID for foreign nationals who are residents of Sierra Leone.

“The ID card is meant for citizens and foreign nationals who reside in Sierra Leone,” Kamanda told DUBAWA.

Also, while the Voter ID card will have a Voter Registration number, the National ID will have, among several other information, the National Identification Number (NIN).

The researcher produced this explainer per the DUBAWA 2023 Kwame KariKari Fellowship partnership with Epic Radio in Sierra Leone to facilitate the ethos of “truth” in journalism and enhance media literacy in Sierra Leone.

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