Voter Identification and the Electoral Lists
In Senegal, as in all other countries, to be registered as a voter and to vote in an election you must fulfill a number of conditions clearly defined in the Electoral Code. Senegalese citizens who wish to vote must first of all be registered as voters. As specified in article LO.26 of the Electoral Code, to be registered as a voter a Senegalese citizen must be at least 18 years old, not be deprived of his or her civil and political rights, and hold a digital national identification card that is obtained by paying a fee of 1,000 CFA francs (about 2 US dollars). Foreigners who acquire Senegalese citizenship through naturalization and who live in Senegal can also be registered as voters according to Article LO.27 of the Electoral Code. In the event that a citizen is omitted from the electoral lists or if there are errors on any civil identity documents, it is possible to file a claim at the local departmental court which has jurisdiction regarding such litigations. Article LO.47 states, “Appeals against decisions made by voter registration committees are addressed to the President of the Departmental Court….” This corrective mechanism available to Senegalese citizens has proven to have very limited effects in voter registration operations, sociologically Senegalese citizens’ perceptions of a legal tribunal is singularly suspicious, even when the matter is purely electoral and not criminal.
Distribution of voters’ cards
Voter registration committees are in charge of the distribution of voting cards in the entire country, both during regular registration periods and during the exceptional registration openings. Article LO.56 of the Electoral Code states in its first paragraph, “The Prefect or Deputy Prefect shall appoint committees in all municipalities and rural districts in order to distribute voters’ cards.”
The distribution of cards is generally conducted on an annual basis during the period referred to as the regular updating of electoral lists. However, exceptional circumstances may warrant that the Minister in charge of the organization of elections authorizes by decree a distribution of voters’ cards.
The exceptional updating of electoral lists is authorized in election years, beginning 40 days before the start of the electoral campaign period and lasting until midnight on the eve of the election. The period of distribution of electoral cards is clearly determined in the Senegalese Electoral Code’s article LO.42, which states, “The distribution of electoral cards shall take place during the regular updating of electoral lists. However, if exceptional circumstances occur, the distribution of cards may be conducted beyond the above-mentioned period, and according to conditions set forth by a decree of the Minister in charge of elections.” Registration on electoral lists can only be done once. If a citizen seeks multiple registrations in one or several lists, only the first registration is deemed valid, as stated in Article LO.46 of the Electoral Code.
In order to receive his or her electoral card, a Senegalese citizen must be physically present at the voter registration committee, present his or her national identification card as well as the proof of registration on electoral lists delivered at the moment of registration.
The Electoral Code Article LO.57 states, “The committees mentioned in the previous article, shall deliver to individuals their electoral card upon verification of their national identification cards and production of proof that they are registered on electoral lists.” This provision of the Code is, among others, intended to combat electoral fraud. The necessity to register on electoral lists and to be physically present to withdraw one’s electoral card brings the voter in direct contact with the registration committee, and consequently the voter can be identified.
If a Senegalese voter loses his or her national digital identification card or electoral card, he or she can report the loss to the police and request that these cards be reissued. In order to be authorized to perform his or her civic duty as a voter, the Senegalese citizen must present his or her national digital identification card and electoral card. The voters must present these documents to members of the polling station. This requirement is stated in the article LO.78 which states, “Upon entering the polling station, the voter must present his or her voter’s card. He or she must also provide proof or identity by presenting a national digital identification card.”
Controversies around electoral lists
Since the electoral lists were rebuilt from scratch in 2005-6, there have been controversies about the reliability of the lists. Political leaders (both ruling party and opposition) and sometimes specialists of electoral issues have had serious debates about the reliability of electoral lists. Such controversies led to to the boycott of the June 3, 2007 legislative elections by the so-called “significant opposition” under the banner of “Benno siggil Senegal” (“united to preserve Senegal’s dignity” in the local language, Wolof). Despite the victory of the opposition in the March 22, 2009 local elections and the audit of the electoral lists, the controversy has not disappeared. It resurfaced during the 2012 presidential elections. The computer science and audit expert, Bakar N’Diaye, had noted that “there are many deficiencies in the electoral lists” and predicted that President Wade would be reelected with a rate close to 53%.
Dr. Cheikh Tidiane Gadio, President of the Citizens’ Political Movement, “Luy Jot Jotna” (MPCL) and unsuccessful presidential candidate, strongly believed that “after the constitutional putsch, we were heading to an electoral putsh”. (By this he was refereeing to the Constitutional Court’s contested validation of President Wade’s candidacy to the presidential elections for a third term). For such critics the electoral system and the elections were a farce, despite the assurances of the Government and of the political parties in the ruling presidential majority, who declared that the election would be transparent and fair. In the end, it was with those contested electoral rosters that the democratic change of government occurred in the 2012 elections.
Following the February-March 2012 presidential election, there was a debate about the elimination of separate electoral cards. International electoral observers such as the European Union’s and national electoral observers such as the Senegalese Network of Citizen Observers (RESOCIT) recommended the elimination of electoral cards to the State of Senegal and to political leaders.
Instead, citizens would need only their national identification card to vote. This reform would, among others, expedite the vote, and allow the State to save a lot of money. It is worth remembering that the Government of Senegal had spent 40 billion CFA (about 80 million US dollars) to manufacture the national identification and electoral cards, that is some 20 billion (about 40 million US dollars) for each.