In Final Liberia Election Report, Carter Center Urges Election Reform

The Carter Center has released the final report from its observation mission of Liberia’s 2017 elections, outlining key findings and offering recommendations for reform to strengthen Liberia’s electoral process.

The Carter Center’s international election observation reflects the Center’s long-term commitment to support democratic development and improve health in the country. The Center plans to remain engaged in Liberia, working with the current government, civil society organizations, the Liberian National Police, and community leaders to advance access to justice, access to information, and mental health.

Liberia’s 2017 presidential and House of Representatives elections were a historic milestone for the country, demonstrating Liberians’ commitment to peace and democratic development. The first round of elections on Oct. 10 were orderly and transparent, despite long lines in some polling places, particularly in urban areas. The electoral dispute-resolution process that followed the first round of voting posed an important test of Liberia’s resilience. While the fundamental rights of justice and access to an effective remedy were broadly respected, elements of Liberia’s electoral dispute-resolution system should be reviewed to avoid the potential for constitutional crises in the future. The presidential run-off election that took place on Dec. 26 was technically sound and demonstrated some improvements over the first round, including identification of voter’s polling places and a more efficient tabulation process.

In a spirit of respect and support, the Center’s observation mission identified several areas where steps can be taken to improve the conduct of future elections in Liberia, including:

Promotion of the Political Rights of Participation of Women, Youth, Persons with Disabilities, LGBTI, and Ethnic and Religious Minorities

Women’s political pariticipation. The failure of Liberia’s legal framework and electoral process to bring women’s political participation in line with the country’s international commitments is one of the greatest weaknesses of Liberia’s democracy. Liberia’s legislature, eletoral authorities, and other stakeholders should consider a range of steps to increase women’s participation in public affairs, including passing legislation to promote women’s political participation, increasing the number of women working in the administration of elections, waiving fees for female candidates, granting female candidates access to the media, and continuing to collect data on gender and minority representation (including continued use of the gender data capture sheet).

Political participation of minorities. In light of Liberia’s commitment under Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to ensure that no ethnic or religious groups are excluded from political participation, the Liberian constitution should continue to protect religious freedom and should not be weakened, including by amendments that would identify a preferred faith.

Removal of race-based citizenship. In future efforts on constitutional reform, consideration should be given to removing the race-based citizenship requirements.

Removal of criminalization of homosexuality and LGBTI political participation. In light of Liberia’s international commitments for non-discrimination, homosexual acts should be decriminalized and legislation should be brought in line with international commitments for equal opportunities.

The right to stand for election: property ownership, residency, and mental health. The qualifications for serving as a candidate that are listed in in Liberia’s constitution should be reviewed to determine whether they are overly restrictive and inconsistent with the ICCPR, including requirements of property ownership and references to mental health. Limitations on the right to stand for elections based on property ownership particularly impact women, as the legal framework does not guarantee spouses the right to joint ownership of property.

Review candidate registration requirements and fees. Liberia should review candidate registration requirements and fees to ensure that political participation rights are respected, and should remove onerous registration requirements for independent candidates.

Electoral Dispute Resolution: Right to Due Process and a Fair Trial

Review EDR system. Consideration should be given to ways to strengthen electoral dispute resolution in Liberia. The strengths and weaknesses of an electoral court system should also be considered.

Review EDR timeframes. Legislative reform of the timeframes for elections is needed to avoid the potential for constitutional crisis that became apparent during the 2017 electoral process. The timeframes for the electoral dispute-resolution process should be well-synched with other areas of law, including the expiration of terms and the swearing-in of newly elected leaders.

Establishment of EDR procedures for pre-election complaints. The dispute-resolution process for pre-election complaints should be clarified, and specific timeframes established. The National Election Commission (NEC) should ensure that all complaints and appeals about candidate registration are adjudicated prior to the start of the campaign period so that the right to due process and appeal does not negatively impact the right to participate in public affairs.

Requirement that disputes regarding election results clearly demonstrate impact on resultsIn line with international best practice, the legal framework for the resolution of election disputes should consistently require that disputes requesting an annulment of election results clearly demonstrate that the alleged improprieties could have changed the outcome of the election. While the current election law (chapter six) does suggest that only complaints that demonstrate a possible effect on election results should be filed, this standard was not consistently implemented and should be strengthened in future legal reform.

Election Administration

Political participation of persons with disabilities. To facilitate participation of persons with disabilities, the NEC should increase access to polling precincts through the use of temporary measures, including ramps and other devices that effectively enable access. In addition, election officials should increase voter awareness of the availability of physical accommodations and the tactile ballot, and train poll workers to proactively offer the tactile ballot to visually impaired voters.

IPCC. The Intra-Party Consultative Committee played a positive role building a relationship between the political parties and the NEC. This forum should be maintained outside the election cycle, and where possible, replicated at the county level through the magistrate offices.

NEC media strategy. To enhance public confidence in the election administration, the NEC’s communication strategy should include greater efforts to inform citizens of NEC actions. Substantive meetings of the commission should be open to the public and agendas and decisions posted online.

Training. To improve the consistent application of rules and procedures and ensure that all voters are treated equally and all votes counted in a consistent manner, training materials should be developed well in advance of election day and distributed to the magistrates, including for any run-off elections. Magistrates should be trained on all key aspects of the process, including tabulation.

Boundary delimitation and equal suffrage. To ensure respect for the equality of the vote, constituency boundaries should be redrawn to minimize the deviations in constituency size and reflect the current demographics of the country.

Timing of elections. Consideration should be given to moving the election date out of the rainy season, which would require a constitutional amendment. When reviewing the timing of elections, consideration should also be given to the timeframes necessary to complete any dispute resolution processes in time to meet deadlines for the inauguration of newly elected leaders.

Voter Registration

Right to vote for youth, pre-trial detainees, and the hospitalized. Procedures to extend voter registration to persons turning 18 between the end of voter registration period and election day, as well as to pre-trial detainees and the hospitalized, should be established in order to prevent unlawful disenfranchisement of persons eligible to vote.

Extracting the voter registry from a civil registry in future elections. Careful consideration should be given to the pros and cons of linking the voter registry to the civil registry. This should be assessed well in advance of future elections so that alternatives to using the civil registry can be in place, if needed. Regardless of the system, the goals should be to ensure enfranchisement of as much of the voting-age population as possible, to minimize the strain on resources, and to instill greater public confidence in a voter register that can be periodically updated.

Candidate Nomination, Campaign Period, and Campaign Finance

Review National Code of Conduct to ensure compliance with the international obligations. The National Code of Conduct timeframes for public officials to step down from their posts in advance of contesting elections should be carefully reviewed to ensure that they are not overly restrictive on the right of persons to contest as candidates.

Two percent requirement. The requirement for political parties to obtain two percent of the votes in the constituencies where they contest or be prohibited from participating in the next two elections is an undue restriction on the right to participate in public affairs, and is inconsistent with Liberia’s commitments under the ICCPR.

Strengthen and enforce campaign finance reporting requirements. To foster a level playing field and greater transparency, campaign-finance regulations should be closely monitored and enforced, and NEC’s capacity to monitor and enforce regulations should be bolstered. Further consideration should be given to requiring campaign-finance reporting before election day, and those reports should be published so that voters can make informed decisions.

Ensuring a level playing field. Measures should be put in place to guarantee that requests for public space and access to roads for campaign purposes are treated on an equal basis.

Equal access to media. In accordance with international standards, all candidates and parties should have equitable access to the media for campaign purposes. Consideration should be given to mandating that state media provide some free airtime for all contesting political parties and candidates.

To address issues that arose on Election Day and improve the integrity of the process, The Carter Center recommends that officials:

Adjust the structure of the voter list to allow voters to easily identify their polling place and polling officials to quickly find their names on the list, perhaps by making it alphabetical.

Strengthen recruitment and training of queue controllers.

Strengthen ballot-handling procedures.

Improve visibility of party agents and observers.

Strengthen training on counting procedures.

Adjust the record of the count form to capture the number of voters according to the marks on the voter lists as well as on information from the gender data sheet.

Strengthen tabulation procedures and release them earlier.

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