Sheriff Mahmud Ismail: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 05 September 2022:
On Saturday September 3rd, 2022, the Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone (ECSL) started what is supposed to be the voter registration process ahead of the June 2023 general elections. But the inscription on the document issued at the end of this ongoing process says this is a ‘Voter Update’ not registration, although curiously, the ECSL staffer responsible for updating/verifying the data is designated as ‘Registration Officer’ (RO).
The process is expected to last for one month – between September 3 and October 4. But in strict sense, the timeframe is just two weeks for each eligible individual to register. This is so because the period allocated to this process is not a straight one month across the country. Rather, the exercise has been split into two phases, with two weeks allocated to each phase.
The first phase spans from September 3 to October 17 and it is restricted to specified areas; whilst the second phase covering September 20 to October 4 is also set aside for other specified areas.
Such a limited time allocation tends to further confirm that this is not intended as a (fresh) voter registration but a mere verification and updating of existing data held by the National Civil Registration Authority (NCRA) and ECSL and using that as a basis for an individual to be enrolled as a registered voter for elections in 2023.
And here is why. A voter registration process usually allows the registrant’s photo to be captured, biometrics taken, in addition to their personal information plus an approved document for identification. Once this is done, a slip will be issued to the registrant bearing, among others, their name and signature, the district, area, center code, the date, and a unique confirmation number.
When I asked the ECSL officers (at the center where my data was verified) about the process, they told me that the updating/verification of existing data residing at ECSL and NCRA and the enrolment of new registrants are running simultaneously.
“If someone had registered as far back as in 2012 with the ECSL (then NEC), or recently with NCRA, their data would be with us and we would only have to verify that data and update them where necessary,” said one of the ECSL staffers.
Another ECSL staffer also stated that, “if no information is available for an individual, then we would have to register the person afresh.” Even they are divided on this last point.
While some ECSL staffers say the new registration is for those who recently turned or would be 18 years by June 2023, others say the new registration caters for anyone aged 18 years and above who has not yet registered.
But on that first day of this exercise, I saw an old woman being turned away because she didn’t have her NCRA slip against which her data were to be verified and she was not given any opportunity to provide her personal details for her to be registered.
This afternoon, at the same centre, I witnessed another situation in which a young man who claimed to have registered in 2012 and 2018 could not be enrolled because according the ECSL RO, there was no record of him. Attempts to dig up his data using his names, biometrics, could not yield anything and he was not allowed to enrol afresh because the same ECSL staff said they didn’t have that mandate.
There are few issues here. As I earlier stated, the ECSL staffers are inconsistent regarding the scope of their mandate. Also, the integrity of the databases of both ECSL and NCRA in terms of the completeness, accuracy, and dependability of the data is questionable. Otherwise, keying in any of or a combination of certain search terms should bring out some results about anyone whose data had been captured rather than a ‘no data’ search response.
The low skill level of the ECSL ‘Registration Officer’ also appears to be affecting the efficiency of the search output. To effectively interrogate databases usually requires certain levels of proficiency, particularly when working under the pressure of a political environment lacerated by mistrust.
All of these challenges come on the back of a very toxic political environment, as opposition parties strongly believe that ECSL is in bed with the ruling party to rig the elections.