Voter Identification and the Electoral Lists
I – The former system of voter registration and updating of electoral lists
In Mauritania, three conditions must be met to be registered as a voter on the electoral lists: 1) possess Mauritanian citizenship, 2) be 18 years old or older, and 3) be a holder of a national identity card. Under the former system, electoral lists were made from updated administrative censuses. This task was performed by a four-member committee chaired by the Hakem (highest administrative authority in a sub-region) who has administrative jurisdiction in the area, and a judge who is appointed by a joint decision of the Minister of Interior and the Minister of Justice. The other members of the committee were appointed by the Wali (Governor of a region). The minutes of the committee’s work were kept at the Secretariat of the Moughataa (the Hakem’s Office).
However, when necessary, an administrative census for electoral purposes can be organized to set up the electoral lists. A decree determines the organizational arrangements of such censuses. The National Office of Statistics of the Ministry of Interior organized three of these electoral censuses during the transition period, from 2006 to 2007.
The first administrative census for electoral purposes was organized from February 16 to April 30, 2006 prior to a constitutional referendum. It followed a similar organization and structure to the general population census. The methodology used was an active one: households were counted as well as citizens who were the voting age. The citizens who were not registered on electoral lists were then invited to do so in established electoral registration offices. The physical presence of the citizen was required for the registration process.
The office in charge of issuing national identity cards was modernized in 2000, when it was equipped with modern digital technology to process biometric data (photos and fingerprints). The office also acquired the capacity to produce secure identity cards and to ensure that each citizen has only one identity card, as well as digital processing of fingerprints allowed to eliminate redundancies. The only problem was that the names and dates of birth on the cards included too many errors.
The electoral lists were entirely based on the results of the administrative census for electoral purposes. Subsequently, lists were updated and completed through the use of the national identity card database. Thanks to this process, 27,000 redundancies were identified and eliminated. These were voters who were registered twice, in their current urban area of residence and in their traditional villages. The production of electoral lists from the national identity card database allowed for the elimination of errors and the avoidance of disputes about the identification of voters during elections. The period allocated to citizens to consult posted provisional electoral lists was particularly short, which reduced considerably the possibility of formulating recourses.
The electoral lists were published on the website of the Ministry of Interior as it was previously done in 2001 and 2003. It became possible to test the credibility of the lists by conducting searches with the serial numbers of identity cards. Electoral lists or particular constituencies could also be downloaded by selecting the relevant administrative entities such as the Moughataa (sub region).
Following the first electoral census, the Ministry of Interior produced a list of 984,423 registered voters, for a population of voters estimated at 1.3 million individuals by the National Office of Statistics. Based on these estimates, approximately 300,000 potential voters were missed while administrative authorities and the CENI (National Independent Electoral Commission) claimed that they had registered 96% of potential voters – that is, people who meet the required age and have an identity card. The two subsequent censuses allowed for the significant improvement of electoral lists.
A second complementary census for electoral purposes took place across the country from September 1 through September 30, 2006. After eliminating 14,465 redundancies and inaccurate data entries, the complementary census produced the figure of 84,952 newly registered voters, increasing the number of registered voters to 1,069,375. The deadlines for the posting and rectifying of the new lists were generally observed. The recourses were very limited, being mostly about names or addresses to be corrected or voters who were deleted because they were registered twice.
A third phase of the census targeting the registration of young people who had just reached the voting age allowed for a significant increase in the number of voters, to 1,130,604. A very limited number of claims were made during the subsequent legal period during which electoral lists were posted and publicized. Voters are generally not informed about the period during which they can make recourses, and as a result, some voters who were omitted from the lists were not reinstated.
Regarding the 2009 presidential elections, the 2009-049 Decree of February 4, 2009 determined the procedures for a third complementary administrative census for electoral purposes. The objective of the census was to create a reliable and definitive electoral list from data which is validated, processed, and stored in a centralized database located at the Ministry of Interior and dedicated to presidential elections. The 2009 administrative census for electoral purposes was launched by the ministerial decision 1046/MIDC of February 26, 2009, which set the starting and closing dates. The census made it possible to update the electoral lists that were made in 2007.
The people registered with the 2009 census were either citizens who did not meet the conditions required to vote when previous censuses were being conducted, or were not registered because of the age requirement, lack of national identity card, there were outside of the country or otherwise unavailable during the period in which electoral lists were updated. Redundancies in the 2007 lists were also eliminated from the 2009 electoral lists.
The 2009 administrative census for electoral purposes was organized by the National Office of Statistics under the supervision of the CENI (National Independent Electoral Commission). It involved the following entities, which dealt with the conception, preparation, coordination, and implementation of the operations of the census:
- an inter-ministerial committee chaired by the Prime Minister
- a technical support committee, chaired by one of the Prime Minister’s advisors
- regional census committees, chaired by the Walis (governors of administrative regions)
- census committees, chaired by the Hakem of the Moughataas (administrative authorities of the sub-regions)
- census committees at the “arrondissement” level (administrative unit under a Moughataa), chaired by the local administrative authority
The lists produced by this census were validated by committees at the sub regional level, and were used as final electoral lists. They were scheduled to be publicized at least 15 days before the elections for citizens to make recourse before the committees, if they wished. No recourse was allowed after that time frame.
In 2009, the census also took into account Mauritanians who were living abroad. This was a novelty; in the past, censuses were conducted exclusively in the national territory, as authorities had always argued that it was too technically complicated to organize the vote of Mauritanians living abroad (despite the fact that it was a demand of political parties).
For those living abroad, it is required to possess the Mauritanian citizenship, to be aged 18 or more, and to be a holder of a valid national identity card or passport to be registered on electoral lists. The voter has to show proof of his/her resident status by showing to members of the administrative voter registration committee his/her consular card, work contract, renting lease, or any other evidence.
The regular and exceptional updating of electoral lists
An administrative committee in charge of updating electoral lists is established in each municipality, it is chaired by the President of the Court of the Moughataa (sub regional court) or by a judge, jointly appointed by decision of the Minister of Interior and the Minister of Justice. The committee includes local administrative authorities, the mayor, and two municipal counselors, appointed by the council.
That committee adjudicates requests for voter registrations and deletions. If a voter wishes to change his/her registration, he/she gives the information to the municipality regarding where he/she was previously registered, and later is notified of the change by the voter’s new municipality. The voters who have either passed away or lost the capacity to exercise their right to vote because of imprisonment, a court sentence of bankruptcy, or mental illness, are deleted from electoral lists.
The voter (3) who registers in another municipality, after being registered in his/her original municipality is deleted from that municipality’s electoral list, as no voter can be registered on two different lists.
The regular updating of electoral lists is scheduled every year, from April 1 to June 30 (Article 100 of Ordinance 2006-04 of January 26, 2006). The results of the updating are publicized by the administrative committee on July 14, and any citizen may submit a claim against the results from July 16 to July 31. The final list is published on August 15.
Regarding the exceptional updating of the electoral lists, it is a prerogative granted by law to the Minister of Interior. This Minister may issue an order, prior to any election, authorizing the updating of electoral lists for a period that cannot exceed three months and must end thirty days before the election (Article 97 of Ordinance 2006-04 of January 26, 2006).
Voters can also be registered by court ruling. Any citizen who fulfills the conditions enumerated in Article 104 of Ordinance 87-289 of October 20, 1987 (creating municipalities, amended by Ordinance 2006-04 of January 2006), and who was incorrectly deleted or denied registration by the administrative committee, may be authorized to vote by decision of the President of the Departmental Court, which may be issued after the closing of electoral lists and ten days before the first round of elections. The President of the administrative committee who registers the voter on electoral lists is notified of the court’s decision (Article 105 of revised Ordinance 87-289).
II – The new system for creating and updating electoral lists
The Law 2012-027 creating the CENI indicates that the commission, in cooperation with the relevant sections of the General Office for the Support of the Electoral Process within the Ministry of Interior, controls the preparation, supervision, and management of electoral lists and electoral censuses, and validates related operations. The CENI shares these powers with the Ministry of Interior, but retains the final authority over the validation of the electoral lists produced for polling stations from the general electoral database.
Another important reform of the new system relates to the distribution of electoral cards. Previously all electoral cards were produced by the Ministry of Interior. With the reform, the cards are produced by the CENI in the municipalities and delivered to voters who present their national identity cards. Electoral cards are produced in the municipalities by local administrative authorities. The cards must include: (1) the voter’s first and last names, date and place of birth, and residence; (2) the voter’s registration number stated on the electoral lists of his/her polling station; and (3) the indication of the polling station of the cardholder.
Electoral cards that are not distributed to their members are returned to the CENI, the commission then makes them available to their owners, before the day of the elections. On Election Day, the cards are delivered to polling stations where their holders can still withdraw them. The cards that are not withdrawn by their holders are counted by members of the polling station and the number is mentioned in the minutes accounting for the voting process in every polling station. The cards are then put in a sealed envelope, which bears the signature of all members of the polling station and the number of cards included within, and the package is delivered to the CENI.
The voter who is duly registered on electoral lists, and who does not have his/her electoral card, because it has been lost or not issued, may be authorized to vote with his/her national identity card. The electoral card is not mandatory but it has a great importance: it allows one to know where to vote and makes it easier to locate the voter on electoral lists. Each electoral card has the name of the polling station and the serial number allocated to each voter.
During the last elections, there were difficulties noted in the distribution of electoral cards. The Ministry of Interior took remedial measures such as making the information on the cards (name of polling station and serial number) available via cellphone automated messaging or through the Ministry’s website.
Useful links and documentary resources
- Décret n° 2005-126 du 16 décembre 2005 fixant les modalités du RAVEL
- Décret n° 2006-027 du 21 avril 2006 modifiant et remplaçant certaines dispositions du décret 2005-0126 du 16 décembre 2005 fixant les modalités du RAVEL
- Arrêté n° 1715 du 01 août 2006 portant ouverture et clôture d’un RAVEL complémentaire
- Décret n° 2006-085 du 28 juillet 2006 fixant les modalités du RAVEL complémentaire
- Décret n° 2009-049 du 04 février 2009 fixant les modalités du troisième recensement administratif à vocation électorale complémentaire pour la révision de la liste électorale de 2009
- Arrêté/R/N° 1046/MIDEC du 26 février 2009 portant ouverture et clôture d’un troisième recensement administratif à vocation électorale complémentaire pour la révision extraordinaire de la liste électorale de 2009
- Arrêté/R/N° 1439/MIDEC du 06 avril 2009 portant prorogation du troisième recensement administratif à vocation électorale complémentaire et de la période de révision extraordinaire de la liste électorale de 2009
- Arrêté/R/N° 1134 du 02 mars 2009 portant ouverture d’une période de révision extraordinaire de la liste électorale de
- Arrêté conjoint n°1233/MIDEC/MJ du 05 mars 2009 portant désignation des présidents des commissions administratives chargées de la révision extraordinaire de la liste électorale de 2009