Liberia: Biometric Voter Registration Faces Technical Glitches in Montserrado County


MONROVIA – Residents in Montserrado County on the first day of the National Election Commission (NEC) voter registration have complained about a slow start in the registration process, something they said could discourage the voting populace.

By Mae Azango and J. H. Webster Clayeh

The biometric voter registration for the October presidential and general elections started in Montserrado County on Monday and it is expected to last until April 9 for Montserrado County.

Slow process

A tour taken by FrontPageAfrica on the first day of the voter registration established that at many of the registration centers there were no signs like NEC banners or posters to indicate that there is an ongoing voter registration happening there. People in the queue complained that the registration process was slow.

Sekou Fofana lives in Doe Community. He was seen in the 12-room area where one of the registration centers is designated.

Fofana told FPA that he is a working man but refused to go to work just to get his voter registration card. Despite his commitment, he expressed frustration over what he termed as a slow start to the registration process.

“Well, the process is slow. This morning I came here around 7:30 am and it is 10:00 am and we are still here. I don’t know what is the cause but one of the NEC staff came out and said they are registering people who are working at NEC first,” he said.

According to Fofana, he foresees chaos if NEC does not speed up the registration to allow many people registration. 

“I will be here until I can get my card. 

I’m calling on NEC to speed up the process. The time they gave us is too short from the 20 of March till the 9 of April is too short and now you see the first day the process is slow. If we continue like this plenty of people will not register. And it will be chaos and we are not ready for any chaos in this country,” Fofana said.

Karmusu Kornway is another person who expressed his frustration with FPA. He was seen in the queue waiting to be called by NEC workers.

Like Fofana, Kornway said he came to the registration center at 7 am this morning and was still on the line after 10:00 am waiting to be attained by NEC registration staff.

He explained: “The guys from NEC told us that they are setting the system because the system is giving them hard time.”

Kornway added: “We are getting vexed with them. The people who work with NEC are supposed to be trained before coming here to work. I am frustrated at the people because I should not be here long at this time.”

He continued: “I want NEC to tell their people to speed up the process because we have limited time. When the process is quick more people will come to register but when the process is slow more people will not get their cards.”

Nathanial Blayon, a resident from Montserrado County District #14 expressed his frustration to FPA: “The registration process is very slow. Since this morning we have been here and not a single person was able to register.”

Older folks complain

Ceedy Paul, Martha Henries and Mary Diggs may or may not register to vote because they are confused over registering on smartphones, and have no knowledge of the biometric process of which the National Elections Commission, (NEC) published an announcement regarding the biometric registration a few days ago.

The communication indicated that people should use their smartphones and enter a link given, for which voters would fill in a form and be given a code to take to their nearby registration centers. 

But how is the message being translated to local market sellers, is the issue, as three middle-aged and older women leaving a meeting, caught up with this paper, and expressed their concerns about what they heard regarding voters registering on the internet.  

“I think those from the National Election Commission are playing fun with us because I don’t think they want us to vote. Why they will say we must go on the internet when some of us never go to school before to know about going on the internet? As for me, I am selling fire coal in the market,” says Ma. Ceedy Paul, 

holding up her small phone, which she referred to as a button phone, she said:

“I have a button phone, and how will I go on the internet?  My children are grown and living on their own, so how will they help me? Let the voting people bring back our old way of voting, like during Ma Ellen time, but I can’t lie to you, this other new way they bringing will not work,” she added.

Mary Diggs, another lady, said she does not know the difference between the internet and the ‘net’ they use to fish because she keeps hearing people saying going on the net.

“What kind of net the voting people talking about? Is it the net we can use to fish or the knife we can use to cut potato greens? I never go to school to know anything about going on net, so let the voting people bring our old way of voting back, the same way we use to vote during ma Ellen time if they want us to vote,” she said.

Martha Henries, an older lady, said she did not go to school and does not know anything about going on the internet.

“If the voting house people do not want us to vote, they must come out and say it, because this other they bringing, will make plenty of us to not vote. I do not know book [not educated] before I will know about internet palava. If the government people want for us to register to vote, let them allow us to carry our old voter registration cards to the old place we voted before for them to give us new ones,” she said.

This paper visited registration centers in Montserrado County and realized many were overcrowded, and people were given numbers to be called by turn. 

 Interestingly, at a Center on Capitol By-Pass, a youth who had registered online held up his phone and called out to the NEC workers to get his code but was ignored: “Here is my code from online. I am giving you people and you are not paying attention to me, so why did I registered online when I will have to stand on this long line?” he said.

But nobody from NEC took his online code from him, while others were complaining about getting big numbers like 105, 106, and onward 110.

In last year, the biometric voter registration process was condemned the moment it was introduced by NEC in 2022. In September 2022, NEC chairperson, Davidetta Browne Lansanah, said at a press conference, that over the period of one year, efforts had been made to transition from OMR registration to biometric technology for the registration of voters.

“Biometric systems have advantages and we would ensure they are properly utilized for the best interest of all eligible voters and the country in general,” she said.

Lansanah further noted that the electoral body would do all in its capacity to ensure that elections registration data no longer end up being conflicted as experienced in past elections.

 However, many people blamed NEC for not educating and sensitizing the citizens regarding the biometric procedure, for which many people are unaware of the new process.  

One of the search persons commenting on the smartphone biometric process was Mr. Oscar Bloh, Chairperson of the Election Coordinating Committee.

“I think the process of transitioning to biometrics is huge, and stakeholders will agree with me that we have not done enough as a nation to sensitize the voters. I visited Lofa and found out that not many people know about this biometric process, which speaks to the lack of civic and voter education. I recommend NEC should learn from this phase one exercise which covers six counties including Motnerrado, Margibi Grand Cape Mount Bomi, Gbarpolu, and Grand Bassa. While this phase one is on, NEC needs to start carrying out the civic and voter education in those remaining counties for the phase two process. The time is short, so while the process is ongoing, we want to appeal to NEC to increase the time from six weeks to at least eight weeks,” he said.

Speaking on registration on smartphones, he said the smartphone announcement was also done in 2017 to help speed the voting registration process for those who have smartphones, but that is not the only option. And it does not stop people in the community from going to do in-person registration.

Bloh added that NEC needs to get society organizations to help them to expand the process. And the issue of political parties encouraging voters to turn out and register is applauded, as he saw some political party vehicles going around and encouraging voters to register to vote. But they should also reach hard-to-reach counties. 

“We need many actors as possible including political parties, aspirants, civil society organizations, the media, Religious leaders and everybody needs to get involved in the awareness process,”  said Bloh.

However, Civil Society Activist, Mr. Tamba F.J. Johnson, National Coordinator, He for She Crusaders Liberia, had a different view and said what Liberians can’t control shouldn’t be introduced regarding online registration.

 “Come to think about this. When you filled in this form, you will still have to go to the center and stand in line and await your time to engage the service provider. How widely is the education on biometrics is spread? What happens to those who don’t have access to the internet service, mostly the market women? The system will not be creditable because, under-aged children will fill in the form when they appear and due to the long line, NEC staff will not have the time to verify their ages. The process will not be credible trust me,” says Tamba