Voter Identification and the Electoral Lists
The civil registry and the management of electoral lists
Since 2009, the special Committee in charge of electoral lists was in charge of developing lists of voters. This committee works under the authority of the CENI (National Independent Electoral Committee), conducts electoral censuses and to establish and update voter lists.
At a decentralized level, there are administrative committees in charge of the electoral lists. They include representatives of political parties, civil society organizations (unions, women’s associations, human rights associations), traditional chiefs, and the State.
The Committee in charge of electoral rosters conducts its activities on the legal basis of the Articles 21 to 36 of the Electoral Code. It should be noted that all citizens of Niger, living in the country or abroad, who are at least 18 years old or are emancipated minors, are to be registered on electoral lists. In 1996, under the military regime of Baré Maïnasara, the mandate to update electoral rosters was handed over to the General Government Computerization Office which was part of the President’s office. This reduced the CENI’s responsibilities regarding the organization of elections.
Who controls the electoral lists is an important issue. With the return of the management of electoral lists to the CENI, the institution has seen its power and prerogatives increase. Electoral lists are permanent: lists are updated annually on a systematic basis, from September 1 to December 31. They can also be updated on an exceptional basis, if necessary, following a decree issued upon the CENI’s request. The updating of electoral lists allows those to register who have just reached the eligible age or who have been emancipated; it also allows the CENI to delete those who are deceased, who have lost their nationality, or whose criminal sentence includes a loss of the exercise of civic rights. In addition, any citizen who has attained the age to vote and who has been omitted from electoral lists can make a claim to the President of the Administrative Committee who, in turn, is under the obligation to notify by writing his/her decision to the claimant.
To prove his/her identity, the voter must present one of the following identification documents: (1) national identification card, (2) passport, (3) driver’s license, (4) consular card, (5) professional military or law enforcement card, (6) civil or military pension booklet, (7) family card or booklet.
If a citizen cannot produce one of those documents, it is possible to register him/her as voter, on a provisional basis, upon presentation of two valid witnesses who can honorably certify the identity of the person. It should be indicated that, despite all legal provisions, the registration of voters remains a problem because of the weaknesses in recording civil data (birth, marriage death). For instance, many people do not have birth certificates. This leads to the recourse to testimonies that are not always a reliable identification method.
Another weakness related to electoral lists is the number assigned to voters on the electoral lists is often different from the number on electoral cards. This does not facilitate the identification of voters as stated in the provisions of Article 28 of the Electoral Code, which states, “electoral lists shall be codified by each electoral constituency and to each voter shall be ascribed a number corresponding to the one on the list. This codification shall comply with the indications provided by the CENI. All lists of voters that do not comply with the provisions of this Article shall be deemed void.”
The consensus reached by the National Council for Political Dialogue (CNDP) tried to resolve this issue, which otherwise may have resulted in the nullification of the results of all elections, or at least their postponement. After several meetings of the CNDP, a consensus was built around the adoptions of a biometric electoral list which would be more reliable, though its cost was prohibitive. The question remains, however, if the use of a biometric roster will resolve the issue of civil data records.
Voter identification and voter cards
All registered voters are personally entitled to electoral cards (Article 39 of the Electoral Code). The card is issued by an administrative committee to its holder or to a duly mandated person, upon presentation of one of the following documents: national identification card, passport, driver’s license, consular card, professional military or law enforcement card, civil or military pension booklet, family card or booklet.
The conditions required for the delivery, conformity, and validity of electoral cards are determined by an order issued by the CENI’s president (Article 38 of the Electoral Code). Article 38 of the Electoral Code also enumerates the conditions to be met in the distribution process of the cards: “…the distribution of electoral cards shall begin in all regions at least two months before the day of the elections and shall continue until the day of elections at the polling stations… The distribution of cards can also be realized on a door to door basis by the local distribution committees established by the Administrative Committees. Local committees shall include representatives of political parties competing in the election.” Article 40 of the Electoral Code also makes an opening by stating that, “The President of the CENI shall issue an order determining the conditions under which electoral cards shall be distributed.” The electoral cards that are not delivered to their owners are centralized by local committees and returned to the CENI’s General Permanent Secretary.
In reality, the CENI does not have the means of ensuring that the cards have been distributed according to the law. Once in the field, the members of local distribution committees tend to play the local political “game” by deciding to include or exclude certain figures, for example, the local traditional chiefs. The distribution of electoral cards is an opportunity for “secret deals,” “collusions,” and negotiations between political parties.
The distribution of electoral cards has always been a weak point in Niger’s electoral process. Indeed, not only do the cards not bear a photo or any reliable identification device (fingerprint, a scan of the eye, etc.), there is lack of rigor in the distribution chain. Fraud takes place during the distribution of cards. If the cards are not deliberately withheld or lost, they are delivered to people who are not their legitimate holders. Very often, they are not delivered in time. In some cases, they are not even delivered to polling stations the day of elections, as required under Article 39 of the Electoral Code, thus many citizens are deprived of their right to vote.
In 2010-2011 provisions were taken to “safeguard” electoral cards. The cards were entrusted with mayors, neighborhood, and village chiefs. For the runoff of the elections, to minimize the risk of card theft, the CENI decided to distribute cards the very day of elections, in polling stations. The reality is that the cards were not always available in polling stations, especially in rural areas.
In addition, some of the provisions of the Practical Guide for the staff of polling stations make it easy to vote with fraudulent electoral cards, these are as follows:
- register the voter on the additional list of voters in compliance with Article 66 of the Code
- Recourse to testimonies for the voters who have their electoral cards but dot have one the documents listed in the Articles 76 to 172 of the Electoral Code.
Article 28 of the Electoral Code mandates that citizens who pass away, who have been deprived of their Nigerien nationality or of the exercise of their civic rights, shall be deleted from electoral lists. Indeed, Niger’s Criminal Code, indicates the consequences of felony and criminal sentences in electoral matters. Article 38 of the Criminal Code states that deletion and denial of registration on electoral lists is pronounced under the following conditions:
- a person sentenced for felony charges;
- a person sentenced to a minimum of two months of imprisonment ( whether the sentence has been suspended or not), cumulatively with a fine for crimes of robbery, swindle, breach of trust; and for infractions resulting in sentencing for robbery, false testimony, false certification, corruption, trading in influence and indecent behavior;
- A person who is sentenced to more than six months of imprisonment without suspension of the sentence, or a person sentenced to more than one year of imprisonment, and whose sentence has been suspended.
Article 39 of the Criminal Code states that sanctions of ineligibility and deletion or denial of registration on electoral lists for a period of five years are duly inflicted upon those convicted and sentenced on the basis of infractions listed in Article 38 of the Criminal Code, or for any crime having entailed an unsuspended sentence or a fine of an amount superior to two hundred thousand CFA ($400 US dollars), unless the provisions of Article 40 of the Electoral Code apply.
Useful links and documentary resources
- Le sahel, 24 décembre 2012. « Adoption du fichier électoral biométrique »: http://nigerdiaspora.net/journaux/sahel-24-12-12.pdf