Monrovia, Liberia - On October 10th, Liberians went to the polls in large numbers in the hope of further consolidating peace and strengthening their democracy.
According to National Democratic Institute (NDI) delegation co-leader and Regional Director, Chris Fomunyoh, “These elections mark a historic milestone for Liberia. Given the country’s experience of conflict and developmental challenges, Liberians should take great pride in the electoral process the country has conducted thus far.”
Election day was peaceful and the polls were generally well-conducted. The delegation was impressed by the enthusiastic participation of voters across the country, many of whom waited patiently in long lines to cast their ballots. The delegation also noted that concerted, good-faith efforts will be needed to bring the elections to a successful conclusion. The delegation issued a detailed preliminary observation statement, which builds on two pre-election assessment missions in February and September 2017 2017.
“At every polling place NDI visited we saw voters determined to cast their vote to help shape Liberia’s future,” said delegation co-leader U.S. Senator Gary Peters from Michigan. “It was best summed up by a voter waiting patiently in line who told me, ‘This is our day! I will wait as long as it takes.’’’
Polling officials worked diligently all day and, in most locations observed by NDI’s delegation, adhered to procedures. Liberian political parties recruited, trained and deployed tens of thousands of poll watchers, and NDI observers saw multiple party agents in nearly all polling places observed. Civil society organizations mobilized more than 5,000 citizen observers who were deployed in every electoral district in the country. The presence of party agents and citizen observers contributed significantly to peacefully safeguarding the vote. The campaign leading up to the polls was open and mostly free of violence, and parties and candidates expressed a commitment to a peaceful process.
“What we are seeing in Liberia is a democracy that is getting stronger and deeper each year,” said Senator Ken Nnamani, former president of the Nigerian Senate. “As someone from a country in the region which has invested a lot in Liberia’s future, the enthusiasm and determination shown in this election process was very encouraging.”
NDI noted that aspects of the process presented challenges on election day: some precincts with multiple polling places were overcrowded, and some voters were confused as to the proper queue to join; some polling places with many registered voters had only a single voting booth; some voters with voter cards were not on the voter roll; and some polling officials did not apply procedures consistently. Together, these difficulties led to slow-moving lines in many polling places. In a number of instances, polling places were located in buildings that presented difficult access for the elderly and persons with disabilities.
In the spirit of international cooperation and in light of a potential presidential runoff election, the delegation offers the following recommendations on steps that can be taken in the short-term to further enhance confidence in the electoral process and foster peaceful, credible polls. In its final report, NDI will offer further, longer-term recommendations to enhance political and electoral processes.
To the National Elections Commission (NEC):
- Verify provisional results as they come in and release them in a timely fashion to enhance citizen confidence in the transmission and tabulation process. Provide polling-place level results in an easily analyzable format on NEC’s website.
- Provide clear, frequent updates to the public as a means of enhancing transparency in the transmission and tabulation of final results.
- Ensure the security of electronic transmission of results between Magistrate Offices and the NEC headquarters.
- Adjudicate complaints and disputes addressed to the NEC in an expeditious, transparent, and impartial manner.
- Refine and clarify procedures for polling officials to manage voters with registration cards that are not found on the roll, and ensure voter identification officers are provided clear, written instructions on those procedures.
- Provide a refresher course to voting precinct presiding officers and voting precinct queue controllers to better direct voters to the correct queues associated with their polling places; clearly mark polling places within precincts.
- Consider putting in place measures for polling officials to record the number of voters who voted at each polling place on the Record of the Count Forms, and to reconcile that number with the number of ballots cast at each polling place during the counting process.
- Bolster civic and voter education efforts, especially in rural areas, on how to mark the ballot and how to find polling places within voting precincts.
- Expedite the procurement, printing and delivery of ballots to ensure they arrive in polling places in advance of election day.
To the Political Parties and Candidates:
- Call on supporters to continue to refrain from acts of intimidation and violence, as the country awaits the announcement of official results; refrain from spreading rumors and disinformation.
- Respect the NEC’s legal responsibility to announce official election results and declare winners.
- Address electoral grievances through the official complaint mechanism.
- Engage more strongly in deploying trained party agents throughout the process, including in the tabulation at the magisterial level.
To the Security Services:
- Reinforce the operationalization of community policing in order to enhance collaborative working relationships with other election stakeholders.
- Ensure that all counties, including difficult to reach areas, benefit from enhanced police deployment to guarantee peace around elections.
- Improve plans for safeguarding materials during the transfer between voting precincts and Magistrate Offices.
- Complete and publicize results of investigations of election-related violence in a timely fashion to enhance public confidence and combat impunity.
To Civil Society:
- Continue to provide evidence-based, nonpartisan findings on the tabulation, results announcement, and electoral dispute resolution processes, as well as specific recommendations for improving the process going forward and future elections.
- Boost civic and voter education efforts focused on how to vote, especially targeting rural voters.
To the Media:
- Ensure that only verified information is reported, and refrain from using inciteful language.
- Maintain professional standards that distinguish between content written by journalists, editorials, and content that is published for a fee.
NDI’s 34-member delegation deployed observers to all 15 counties and was led by:
- U.S. Senator Gary Peters, Michigan;
- Senator Ken Nnamani, Former President of the Senate, Nigeria;
- Dr. Christopher Fomunyoh, Regional Director, NDI.
The delegation observed polling places on Election Day from opening to closing. High-level meetings with the National Elections Commission, government officials, political party leaders and civil society representatives. NDI conducted two pre-election assessment missions prior to the polls and provided recommendations to key stakeholders in statements issued in February and September. In addition, NDI has deployed six long-term observers and four long-term analysts in Liberia since June, who will stay in Liberia through the end of November.
The National Democratic Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization working to support and strengthen democratic institutions worldwide through citizen participation, openness and accountability in government. Over the last 25 years, NDI has conducted more than 150 election observation missions in 62 countries. NDI first worked in Liberia in 1997, providing technical assistance to Liberian voter education and election monitoring efforts, and has maintained an in-country office since 2003. More information is available at www.ndi.org/liberia.