NATIONAL ELECTION WATCH (NEW)
A Coalition of Civic and Nongovernmental Organizations 44 Bathurst Street, Freetown Tel: +23233858013 email@example.com
Freetown, 9th March, 2012: As BVR reaches third phase NEW/IRN urges all Sierra Leoneans eligible to vote to mobilize and register.
National Election Watch (NEW) and Independent Radio Network (IRN) have just completed a nationwide midterm review of the Biometric Voter Registration BVR. NEW/IRN observed that the process started slowly with low registration numbers on Day 1 due to slow process and also some confusion about the locations of open centers. The NEC Ward Coordinators and staff were present at all the centers. There was gender consideration for Registration staff as NEC had a balance of male and female registration staff.
NEW/IRN observed that the 6pm closure for specified days was not adhered to in most areas. NEW/IRN also observed numerous instances where registration opened early and did not cease at 17:00 and NEC staff processed registrants who were in the queue at 17:00 until they were completed.
NEW/IRN observed that the number of security in VRCs increased from Phase 1 Day 1 where approximately two thirds of observers reported security presence to almost three quarters on Phase 2 Day 15. Security played various roles in centres but primarily focused on queue and crowd control.
The SLP in every region and district were interviewed and issues discussed included:
„h Insufficient Personnel – More police are required to cover all VRCs.
„h Transportation Constraints – Police reported a lack of transportation to move personnel around. This resulted in police being posted out of their station for long periods of time.
„h Limited election-related Training – Police report that staff received limited training on the electoral process.
„h Peaceful Process – Overall the SLP believe the process has been peaceful. NEW/IRN observed that police presence has largely contributed to this result.
NEW/IRN discovered in the early observation data that BVR kit malfunctions and were most commonly attributed to Generator, Computer and Camera faults. In general equipment malfunctions decreased over time. NEW/IRN observed very few instances of scanner malfunction. Faulty generators were replaced in phase 1. Also Standby kits were not readily available and in some cases the registration centers did not open because kits malfunctioned and replacement kits were not immediately available. NEC staff travelled to transfer replacement kits to the new locations.
NEW/IRN observed that there was pressure in densely populated wards. The number of registrants is particularly high in some wards. We have observed that a number of VRCs have registered in excess of 3,000 registrants. Large VRCs of this size will be overcrowded both at Exhibition and in particular on Polling Day. The location and size of some registration centres makes them unsuitable to accommodate multiple polling stations.
NEW/IRN observed there were long distances to BVR Centers in rural areas and some registrants complained about having to travel long distances to travel to register. This was raised as an issue in 2007 and 2008 but the 10% additional VRCs has not completely addressed the problem.
Some double registrations were picked up but NEC and the SLP dealt with those issues appropriately. We condemn the reckless behavior of Party stalwarts and Government authorities intimidating and harassing NEC staff, observers, journalists and defenders. These attitudes of incivility continue to pose a huge challenge to consolidating and deepening our fledgling democracy. We therefore urge the PPRC in collaboration with ONS, as a matter of urgency to organize a round table with Political parties, SLP and NEW/IRN including Inter religious Council to discuss these critical issues.
NEW/IRN observed that the use of “ordinarily resident” in the electoral Act and the cross border registration and transport of registrants to centres outside the location where they are normally resident continues to be an issue. NEW/IRN travelled to the border crossings at Kambia, Jendema and Kailahun and believe that cross border registration has the potential of creating chaos in those areas during registration but also during Exhibition and on Polling Day.
NEW/IRN observed insufficient Electoral Education causing confusion at the beginning of the registration process about where and when to register. The text messaging system was not operational before or at the beginning of the BVR process. NEW/IRN widely promoted this system on radio discussions all over the country although the effectiveness or use of this system was not observed. The WEEC members were visible around registration centers in Freetown but NEW/IRN’s general observation is that there was inadequate electoral education about the registration process.
NEW/IRN is observing half of the 2,998 Voter Registration Centers selected at random in all Districts for 3 days in each of the 4 Phases – days 1, 8 and 15. The Observers ‘follow the kits’ as they move from one VRC to the next. The NEC supported this initiative by accrediting NEW/IRN Observers who wear their accreditation badge and Observer T Shirt while in the registration centre. Observers are working in teams of two completing a checklist for each day of Observation. They are also completing Incident Reports for any unusual events which occur during the course of the Observation.
The NEW/IRN leadership held a one-day TOT at the start of the process where they trained Regional and District Coordinators and District Secretaries. The DCs then cascaded this training to the Observers in each District. Observation teams were provided with briefing material, checklists and incident reporting forms. DCs are supported by Supervisors in every District who are responsible for manning the VCRs with Observers, collecting the checklists and providing information and updates to Observers. The observation checklist captured information about the number and profile of registrants, presence of party agents and security personnel and about the set up and organization of the NEC and performance of equipment and materials that the NEC is utilizing. The data was entered into a database and analyzed to support NEW/IRN observations.
We will continue to report to the People of Sierra Leone.
NEW/IRN is grateful to the UK Department for International Development (DFID) for the funding to enable NEW/IRN to observe this process and also to Search for Common Ground for the provision of electoral technical advice.
For Further Information Please Contact: James Lahai, National Coordinator (076962233), Ransford Wright, National Coordinator IRN (076613313) or Ngolo Katta, Spokesperson ( 076 606 419).
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Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.