LIBERIA: Elections Observation Network Identifies Major Issues Regarding Voter Registration Exercise
Monrovia – Liberia Elections Observation Network (LEON) has several major concerns on the conduct of the voter registration exercise since it has not been of sufficient duration or had sufficient awareness to address the large numbers of people that need to register or move their registration. Long queues have worsened tensions and made COVID distances measures impossible.
LEON has observed several incidents of trucking across the country sometime accompanied by intimidation or vote-buying. A lack of adherence to voter identification procedures by registration staff have contributed to the possibility of out of area voters being registered. LEON is concerned about the loss of confidence in the registration update, and the behavior of some candidates in trying to defraud the system. LEON call upon the NEC to thoroughly check all new registrants before they are added to the voters’ list and to redouble efforts to stop multiple voting on election day. We call upon all political contestants to adhere to the law and to stop committing fraudulent acts or incitement to violence.
Since the start of voter registration on September 11, LEON observers have visited 189 of the 538 voter registration precincts that were open across the country at the times when registration was meant to be happening. Observers visited each precinct on all the days they were open for at least two hours per visit.
It must be noted that, from the NEC movement plan, only a quarter of precincts were visited by voter registration teams, and most of these were in the more populated areas of the electoral district. Only one in five precincts were visited by NEC registration teams in Montserrado county, despite these having large numbers of voters. In the south east every second or third precinct was visited by the registration teams.
Prior to the start of the voter registration exercise, LEON conducted a nationwide survey of 8339 people and found that 74% of people interviewed said they either need to register for the first time, change their registration location, or replace a list card. This warned us that there is little opportunity for people to make updates when the teams are only visiting a quarter of all precincts for three days.
As was predicted, LEON observed that queues at each center were long – over 30 people in a third of all centers visited at any one time. Queues got longer on the second and third days of centers being open as people began to learn of the exercise. Many centers would close early when they ran out of materials – some as early as 3.00p.m. Several registration centers in Grand Gedeh opened a few days late due to materials getting stuck in the mud which meant that the movement schedule was not adhered to and people had difficulty knowing when to the center would be open. LEON observers found that tensions were high at crowded precincts and many voters would leave because of the queues. There was no security present during 80% of the visits which made it difficult to control tensions. In Grand Gedeh the Election Magistrate’s house was set on fire by people complaining that he was favoring one of the candidates.
Voter information on the process was extremely poor. LEON found from its August survey that 41% of respondents were unaware of the voter registration update and only 11% knew when it would start. Things did not improve greatly during the process especially since precincts were frequently not open on the days that had been posted. LEON assesses that many people in outlying areas, who would normally vote at a different precinct, would not have known about the registration exercise or have been able to travel the long distances to the one center open even if they had.
The NEC has announced that it expects to register 300,000 people. LEON’s pre-registration survey assessed that 14% of the population as a whole will be new registrants, which when applied to the current registration numbers gives a similar figure. However, this does not allow for people moving location, which could be many more people. Underestimation of the numbers of people needing one of the services on offer could account for the lack of available voter registration forms as well as the long queues.
LEON observed that equipment was working and procedures for completing the registration forms were adhered to in almost all registration locations. However, identification of voters was an issue with no identification or testimonial being demanded in most instances. In 10% of centers, voters asking to move their registration center were not checked on the searchable database. LEON assessed that in 51 centers observed (a quarter), voter registration staff were allowing people to register who were not eligible due to being underage or not from the area. This led to 15% of all voter registration centers observed being rated as poor or very poor by LEON observers.
LEON observed the incidents of trucking in both Bomi and Grand Cape Mount counties that have been widely reported in the media. In particular people were seen crossing from Sierra Leone in Jennie town which led to clashes with local residents. In Bomi district 2, Moses Vincent Compound, LEON observers saw voters coming from Montserrado and forcing local voters to leave the queue so that they could register. Tensions ran high after NTA buses were seen trucking voters from Montserrado to Tubmanberg. This led to a march by local women to the Election Magistrates office calling for more to be done to halt the practice, to which the Magistrate responded by saying trucking is not illegal. Trucking was also noted at Precinct 09161 in Buchanan and in Sinoe district 2 where aspirants for the Representative seat was trucking people from Greenville. LEON noted 131 cases of trucking in total over the two weeks of registration.
LEON would like to reiterate the NEC statement that the New Election Law states that citizens must vote where they ordinarily reside (article 3.1) which makes trucking voters from one district to another illegal. People who have moved district could go to their local voter registration center to change their registration details and do not need to travel.
LEON has also witnessed vote buying in Sinoe and Montserrado districts, and buying voter cards from first time registrants for $10 in Sinoe district 2.
On COVID measures, handwashing buckets were only available in just over half of all locations visited, and people were only observing distancing measures in a third of all visits due to the long queues.
Almost a quarter of all Centers were not easily accessible to persons with disabilities, mostly because it was on an upper floor or had steps leading to it. This is a problem that has been highlighted many times and has not been addressed.
LEON recognizes that the short and late registration period is due to lack of funds being made available to the NEC at an earlier date. However, the process has been deeply flawed. There has been insufficient time, information, or reach to rural areas for a meaningful update to the register. The large amount of trucking perpetrated by political parties and the lack of application of identification measures have led to a substantial drop in confidence in the voter register as a whole, with a resulting petition to the Supreme Court to have the process annulled. There is no time to extend the process without affecting the election date and pushing Liberia into a constitutional crisis.
LEON calls for the following:
For the NEC to conduct a thorough check on all the registrations before they are entered into the database, to ensure that they are not already in the database in another area, and do come from where they say they do.
For the NEC to strengthen measures on election day to ensure that people cannot vote more than once. Providing political party agents with one or two copies of the Final registration roll and having names called out in each polling place will help.
For the NEC to thoroughly investigate complaints against its own magistrates and staff to ensure that any people found to be colluding with political aspirants are removed from their position. And to ensure that they all know and understand the law and desist from making statements contrary to NEC policy,
For the NEC to send clear messages to perpetrators that they will be deregistered from contesting the election if they are found guilty of any infringements to the election law such as vote buying or trucking.
For the Finance ministry to ensure that money is available to the NEC for the next stages of the election immediately.
For political parties and candidates to desist from intimidation and vote buying with immediate effect and to commit themselves to peaceful elections. LEON has not named and shamed candidates responsible at this point but may join with other observer groups to do so in the near future if behavior does not change.
For the police to investigate all incidents of trucking and vote buying thoroughly and to take action against perpetrators. LEON believes the only way to preserve our democracy is by strict application of the law and real penalties such as deregistration for perpetrators.
LEON launched in May 2017 is a platform of four Liberian Civil Society Organizations: The Catholic Justice and Peace Commission (JPC), Liberia Crusaders for Peace (LCP), Federation of Liberia Youth (FLY) and National Union of Organizations for the Disabled (NUOD) with the goal of meaningfully contributing to democratization processes in Liberia. LEON observed the 2017 elections with over 1000 observers and has observed subsequent by-elections. LEON has a core team in Monrovia and observers stationed in all 73 electoral districts of Liberia and a further 200 surveyors. It conducted a nationwide pre-voter registration survey in August, results are available from the website, It will shortly be releasing results of a major survey into Violence Against Women in Elections and Politics and survey into citizen’s knowledge of the constitutional referendum.
LEON receives technical support from the Carter Center and funding from the Swedish Cooperation for the conduct of this survey and would like to extend thanks and appreciation to both for enabling us to conduct this research.