Liberia: ‘Remove Presidential, Legislative Elections to Dry Season’ – CSO Recommends

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Monrovia – The Liberia Elections Observation Network (LEON) has recommended that the election date be moved fully to the dry season not just by one month as is currently proposed. This has the support of 90% of respondents because it will make voting and election preparations easier. The inauguration date stated in the Constitution will need to be changed along with the timeline for complaints and appeals to fit either a one month or longer change to the election date.

Respondents reported significant barriers for women seeking elected office including lack of funds, lack of political party support, and threats from the community. LEON recommends that it should be compulsory for a political party or coalition to have no less than 30% of either gender on its governing body and candidate list and that special funding for women candidates be made available.

Although trucking is undoubtedly an issue, caution should be used in trying to use the National Identification Registry database for voter registration due to the fact that two-thirds of respondents reported that they do not register deaths and respondents also only know where to go to vote by where they registered.  These issues need to be resolved before the country is ready to move to passive voter registration or there will be even less confidence in the register. 

The voter list should be ordered alphabetically, not by registration number, to help voters find the correct polling place and to speed up voting. 5% of respondents had queued to vote in the wrong line in 2017  and two thirds said it took more than five minutes for the Voter Identification Officer to find their name on the voter’s roll.

Civic education should be conducted in schools and community meetings with a national curriculum. Specialized voter education needs to be done for blind and deaf voters, also for first time voters and in local languages. 

Summary of the survey findings

The Liberia Election Observation Network-LEON released its survey results conducted by 202 surveyors with 5,223 respondents across the country on September 27, 2019.  The survey focuses on five (5) key electoral reform issues including: Change of Election Date, voting and Voter Registration, Women as candidates, Civic and Voter Education, and Factors that are important to ensure an election is free and fair.

The survey was conducted randomly to ensure an accurate representation of Liberians across  the ages of 18 and above, all walks of life and by gender. Questions were designed to gather citizens’ perceptions and experience on issues being considered for electoral reform, and answers were mostly unprompted. It thus presents empirical data for policy makers. 

The majority of the respondents (over 90%) strongly agreed in moving the election date to the dry season to make it easier for election preparations and to vote. 

Just over 90% of respondents voted in the 2017 election and 13% of them said they were offered some kind of inducement to vote for some candidates in the range of $10-20 United States Dollars per person. However, only two thirds admitted to accepting the money which represent 8% of respondents being trucked during the 2017 election. 

Two thirds of respondents said that it took more than five minutes for the Voter Identification Officer to find their name on the Registration Roll in 2017 and  5% of respondents had queued at the wrong polling place. This indicates that having the Registration Roll ordered by registration number rather than by voter’s name is causing significant challenges and should be changed. 

LEON was particularly interested in the possibility of the voter roll being taken from the National Identification Registry that could ease the cost associated with repeated voter registration processes during election times. 70% of the respondents said they have heard of the National Identification Registry process; however, only quarter of this number has registered and have their identification cards which poses a challenge in using the NIR for 2020 or 2023 elections.  However, the biggest challenge to taking the voters roll from the NIR is the fact that two thirds of respondents said that they do not register deaths in their family. This would lead to increasing numbers of dead people being on the voters roll over time and the risk of people being able to use their voter cards. A further issue would be how people are linked to their polling precinct without detailed addresses in the NIR. At present people only know where to go to vote because that is where they have registered.

The survey also highlighted the issues of women and barriers to their candidacy. There were several positive perceptions that respondents said could influence them in voting for a woman, such as being more likely to hold onto their campaign promises, being peacemakers and understanding family needs.  By contrast, when not choosing a woman specifically, influencing factors were the candidate being well known or doing good works for the area and having good campaign promises. 20% of the respondents of either gender said still they would never vote for a woman. Negative perceptions included women being selfish and not helping other women. 5% of respondents said that women should not be in politics.  Over a quarter of respondents thought that political parties are not supportive of women ads candidates and a similar amount felt that women often don’t have enough money to run. Worryingly 11% of respondents thought that women are threatened in the community if they want to stand for elected office.

On the issue of Voter education, half of all respondents generally believed that they received sufficient voter education in sufficient time. 80% of the respondents said the only way they can receive voter’s education information is through televisions and radio.  22% of respondents received information from informal sources such as religious leaders, elders, family and friends.  

Nearly all respondents agreed that there should be distinct voter education available for potentially marginalized groups such as persons with disabilities, women and first-time voters. While most of the respondents believed that voter information should be available in local languages.

However, most of the respondents said that the most common place for civic education should be school. This will enable students grow with the sense of responsibility knowing what their civic liberties are and how to protect the rights of others in a democratic space. Town hall meeting for adults were also popular to discuss issues such as how elections work and how representatives are meant to represent you.

LEON therefore recommends the following:

That the date for holding the election is moved more than the one month currently under discussion so as to ensure that  key election preparations and the campaign can take place in the dry season. Any move of the date, even by the one month under consideration, will require adjustments in the constitution to the inauguration date and complaints and appeals processes.

Strengthening article 4.5 (1)b and (1)c of the New Elections Law by removing the word ‘endeavour’ and making it compulsory for a political party or coalition to have no less than 30% of either gender on its governing body and candidate list. Also, to add an additional paragraph that all parties shall have at least one-woman contestant for the primary for each constituency where it nominates a candidate and that the NEC must be informed of all primaries at least two weeks in advance to allow for observers to be informed.  The ability of the NEC to enforce a  penalty if the party fails to comply should also be written into the law.   

To exercise caution in any proposed move to take the voter register from the National Identification Register. Accurate linking people to their polling place and removing the deceased from the register must be ensured and tested before moving to a passive voter registration will be effective. 

Civic and voter education should not be lumped together. Voter education is rightly the responsibility of the NEC but civic education needs to be broader and conducted in schools and community meetings with a national curriculum. Specialized voter education needs to be done for blind and deaf voters, also for first time voters and in local languages. 

The voter list should be ordered alphabetically, not by registration number, to help voters find the correct polling place and to speed up voting.

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