Voter Identification and the Electoral Lists
Developing a reliable electoral registry: Biometric data have raised many hopes
As in many African countries, Burkina Faso faces serious challenges to maintaining a reliable database of civil records such as: births, deaths, and marriages. In fact, many people are born and grow up without ever obtaining documentation which supports their citizenship such as birth certificate, even though, citizenship is based on civil records that demonstrate the link between individuals and the State. In Burkina Faso documents which can be used to determine citizenship are birth certificates, judicial orders which are issued to individuals who were unable to obtain birth certificates, or national identity cards. As one can easily imagine such a situation is not without consequences on the quality of the electoral database and its lists of eligible voters.
Indeed, the electoral law requires that to be able to register to vote, a Burkinabè citizen must present either a birth certificate, judicial order or a national identity card during registration. Historically, the registration on the electoral list allowed for a broader range of civil records. In addition to the above listed documents, one could register with a family register (livret de famille), proof of a military pension, or a military identification card. The plurality of these documents often facilitated the manipulation of the lists by allowing individuals to register multiple times. Since the return to constitutional rule, the weaknesses of the electoral lists have been on display in recent past elections. During the various elections that have taken place, election observers agreed in different reports that the government needed to establish a form of biometric registration. The opposition in Burkina, backed by a portion of civil the society, has amplified this request. This call for the implementation of a biometric system was made easier because President Blaise Compaoré, acting as a mediator in several socio-political crises in the region, recommended to these countries that they use a biometric system of registration. Additionally, several other countries in the sub-region recently implemented this “magic” formula.
After some hesitation, the Burkinabè government finally introduced a bill amending the Electoral Code and adopted, on April 5, 2012 a biometric census. Subsequently, the National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI) led an international call for companies to put in place the biometric system and the French company GEMALTO was selected. By May 2012, the CENI prepared more than 3,500 computers and generators in different registration centers. There were more than 4,000 data entry operators and 12,300 assistants who were mobilized across the country for the registration period. The operation started on June 1 and ended on August 16. Burkinabè citizens who were absent from their place of residence during the census and who had the necessary documentation were able to register throughout September.
Technically, the operation could not take place at the same time across the country because of the limited of number of machines available. The CENI divided the country into four zones. The teams stayed for ten days in each area to enroll voters. Zone I, where the launching of the operation took place, was granted an extension of five days because of difficulties encountered during the operation. The zones of Ouagadougou and Bobo Dioulasso were covered for twenty-one days because each location has a larger population of potential voters than the rest of the country.
To be included on the electoral list, citizens of voting age have to show one of the following documents: a national identity card (CNIB), a birth certificate, or judicial order. After verifying these documents, the operator filled out the information form on the computer, took a photo of the voter and fingerprinted each finger. After this process, a biometric voter card was delivered to the voter. Similarly, it should be noted that for the first time, foreigners living in Burkina Faso were able to register as voters in municipal elections. To register, foreigners needed to meet certain requirements:
- Present a consular card, a passport, or an identity card;
- Present a certificate of residence demonstrating that they have resided in the country for at least ten years;
- Demonstrate that they hold a legally recognized profession;
- Proof that they are up to date with income tax assessments.
In total, 39 foreign citizens were enrolled.
At the end of the registration process, 4,365,153 were registered out of an estimated potential of 7.5 million. The computer processing resulted in the development of a provisional list that was published one month before the day of the election. This list was available on the website of the CENI and displayed in the headquarters of the municipal electoral commissions. There are several reasons for publishing the electoral list publically including: to correct any errors that may have occurred during the preparation, to remove of persons who have no right to be on the list, or to reinstate those that have been omitted by mistake. For example, despite the use of a biometric system, the CENI has identified more than 26,000 cases of citizens registered multiple times.
An amendment to the Electoral Code now allows for the electoral list to be updated annually. This takes place over a period which is determined by a decision of the CENI in accordance with the government. However, a number of questions remain: How will this be organized with the introduction of a biometric system? Will the list be revised across the entire country and at all levels (village, commune, province or region)? Is it necessary to centralize the process at the national level? These procedures have yet to be defined and the members of CENI will deliberate on these issues soon. Updating the list annually will ensure that people who have met the voting age and other conditions to register are able to do so. It will also help the list maintain its accuracy by removing those who died upon presentation of a death certificate.
The observed deficiencies of the biometric registration drive
Establishing the biometric system in Burkina was successful in that it generated enthusiasm among the people during registration in comparison with previous registration periods and it increased voter turnout on election day (more than 70%), yet it is worth noting some shortcomings related to the biometric registration drive:
- The choice of the registration period coincided with the rainy season. Burkina Faso is a country where communication and transportation networks are unevenly developed from one area to another. Consequently, some operators who were going to villages cut off from the rest of country by flooding had to be transported by air;
- Many people in villages did not have the required documents for registration: despite a massive free campaign for the delivery of civil status certificates, many people of voting age did not have these documents;
- The lack of control over the electoral map;
- The generators were not always of good quality; this caused excessive delays in the process and people had to wait in line for several hours to be able to register;
- Some operators were not sufficiently qualified for such work: some of them did not receive training;
- Political parties and civil society were not heavily involved in the campaign to raise public awareness regarding voter registration.
- In some cases, citizens who had their voter cards could not vote because their names were not on the electoral list due to technical problems. The computers on which these people were registered broke down before operators were able save their registration.
Useful links and documentary resources
- Official website of the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI): http://www.ceni.bf
- Burkina 24, 25 janvier 2012. « Enrôlement biométrique: le gouvernement autorise l’attribution du marché à GEMALTO »: http://burkina24.com/news/2012/01/enrolement-biometrique-le-gouvernement-autorise-l%E2%80%99attribution-du-marche-a-gemalto/