Voter Identification and the Electoral Lists
Voter identification and birth, death, and marriage records
To be eligible to vote, one must be a Malian citizen and be at least 18 years of age, be registered on electoral lists and maintain the capacity to exercise one’s full civil and political rights. In other words, they must not have been sentenced by a judge such that they lose their civil or political rights.
Electoral lists are permanent and are created from biometric databases of birth, marriage and death records and include photos and finger prints. The National identification Number (NINA) is a unique number attributed to each voter based on this biometric data. Electoral lists are updated annually from October 1 to December 31. Provisions of the 06-044 Electoral Law of September 4, 2006 states that electoral lists shall be created or updated in each municipality, embassy or consulate by an administrative committee working under the authority of a state representative from the municipality, the embassy, or the consulate. The administrative committees shall consist of members appointed by the Government and political parties.
From October 1 to October 31, the administrative committee performs two major tasks. First, they register: (1) all potential voters whose digital photos and fingerprints are recorded in the biometric databases of the civil registry which contains birth, marriage, death and other civil records; (2) all those with digital photos and fingerprints in the databases who fulfill the age requirement at the time of elections; (3) people recorded following a change of residence.
Secondly, the Committees automatically delete from the electoral lists: (1) deceased voters who are deleted from the census records. Voters registered multiple times or by mistake during previous updating of lists are also deleted even if there has been no complaint; (2) voters convicted and whose sentence include the loss of the capacity to vote; (3) voters who have lost the right to vote pronounced by a court of justice.
Starting on November 1 of each year, administrative committees produce updated electoral lists which included the newly registered voters and those who have been deleted. Citizens are informed where the lists are posted and they have the opportunity to consult them and make requests that errors be changed during a 20 day period. All of these claims are filed in chronological order in a logbook which is maintained by the president of the administrative committee. If a request from a citizen to be registered on electoral lists is rejected, the citizen is notified in writing by the state representative from the municipality within five days or by other means available. The citizen is also informed, by the same means, that he/she can appeal the decision before a civil judge within ten days starting from the notification date. The notification and the date it was issued are recorded in the logbook. The electoral lists are definitively closed on December 31 of each year. All changes made during the updating process are included in the electoral lists which will be the working document for the following year. The newly updated lists are consolidated by the DGE (General Office of Elections) which has jurisdiction over the production of electoral lists and voters’ electoral cards.
The majority of political and civil society leaders believe that the use of the biometric electoral lists will contribute significantly to the reduction of electoral fraud in coming elections, even though it should not be viewed as the solution to all problems. The reliability of electoral lists and the physical identification of voters, both for the distribution of electoral cards and voter identification, are critical elements for transparent and credible elections.
Article 59 of the 2006 Electoral law states that each voter shall receive, a NINA card that is used as an electoral card the day before the election, at the latest. The model and the content of the card are determined by the Ministry of Territorial Affairs.
NINA cards are delivered to the beneficiaries following deadlines and procedures established by the Ministry of Territorial Affairs. NINA cards are specific to their owner, cannot be transferred to another person, or altered in any way.
It should be noted that the above-mentioned ministry produced a guide for the distribution of the NINA cards in May 2013. According to this guide, the introduction of NINA cards in the 2013 electoral process starts with the distribution of the cards to their owners who must be personally and physically present to collect them. The distribution is conducted by teams called “Teams for the distribution of NINA cards in support of administrative committees in charge of the creation of biometric electoral rosters.”
NINA cards are distributed according to a number of procedures, among which are the following:
- ensure the personal and physically presence of the holder of each NINA card
- ensure that all produced NINA cards can be located at any given time on the basis of documents used for their distribution or custody
- preserve all citizens’ right to vote
On the eve of elections, all NINA cards that have not been distributed to their owners are entrusted to the Deputy Prefects (local State authority in each sub-region), the District Governor, the Ambassador or the Consul against a document acknowledging their receipt. The cards will be available to their owners who receive them after showing proof of their identity.
Voting is an individual act. Upon entering the polling station, the voter shows his/her NINA identity card which is the only identification document admissible at a polling station. Citizens who are registered on electoral lists and who do not possess NINA cards are not permitted to vote.
Therefore, the option of having a witness identify voters, an option authorized by the 2011 electoral law, has been repealed following controversies that it facilitated fraud.
Under the 2011 electoral law, despite the existence of distribution committees, many citizens never received their cards, found their names on lists, or located their polling stations. This was a major cause of low turnout in the election. The Government wanted to remedy this situation and to that effect decreed a citizen’s day (a holiday) so that more people would be able to obtain their electoral cards.
Debate around the updating of electoral lists
One central paradox present in the debates surrounding electoral lists is that political parties are always questioning the reliability of electoral lists, and yet, these lists are produced and updated by administrative committees on which they are members. This presents the question: do political parties fully assume their role at this phase of the electoral process? Indeed the 2012 general report on pre-electoral observation by the APEM Network notes that the representation of political parties in administrative committees for the updating of electoral lists is insignificant, especially considering the large number of parties (138). It was noted that on average 25 of more than 100 parties were represented in the District of Bamako , 25 parties of 28 in the municipality of Koutiala, 18 in Kayes and Gao, 17 in San and Mopti, 16 in Segou, 15 in Sikasso, 14 in Koulikoro, 9 in Bourem, Macina and Dire; and 8 in Tombouctou.
There was also a major debate about the reliability of electoral lists for the elections that were scheduled to be held in 2012. At that time, the master electoral list was known as RACE (French acronym meaning: Administrative Census for Electoral Purposes). The list was produced from a 2006 census and was subsequently used for all elections. It is during the pre-electoral phase of the aborted 2012 elections that the RACE list was consistently targeted for its lack of reliability. The majority of political parties and civil society associations viewed this list as a main contributor to electoral fraud. Following the work of an expert committee, consensus was found around a new electoral list known as the Consensual Electoral List. The committee’s mandate was to explore all possibilities for the creation of a reliable electoral list that would allow for the 2012 elections to be organized within the deadlines set by the Constitution and under peaceful conditions. The Consensual Electoral List was an improved version of the RACE list. It was deemed that the RACE list was improvable and could be produced within legal deadlines to hold the 2012 general elections. However, Mali has since made another move by adopting the biometric electoral list, described above, for all future elections.
Useful links and documentary resources
- Dr. Mohamed Traoré et Dr. Sékou Mamadou Chérif Diaby (2001). « Les élections au Mali : Pourquoi le taux de participation est toujours si bas ? », Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung: http://library.fes.de/pdf-files/bueros/mali/09547.pdf
- Primature Mali, 19 avril 2010. « Réformes politiques : la machine prend de la vitesse »: http://www.primature.gov.ml/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=4148