Preliminary findings of the 2023 Election Study and Observation Mission (ESOM) to the Liberia 2023 General Elections
October 17, 2023
Liberians voted in the country’s fourth consecutive election since the end of the civil war 20 years ago. The October 10 elections availed voters the opportunity to elect a President, 15 Senators and 73 Members of the House of Representatives. Of the country’s 5.4 million population, 2,471,617 voters were certified by the National Elections Commission (NEC) in the Final Registration Roll (FRR) to vote in 5,890 polling places. Thirty-one political parties nominated 1,128 candidates for different offices, while 195 independent candidates contested in several polls. The 2023 election was an election of many firsts. It’s the country’s first reliance on a biometric register for general elections following a national census. In 2022, the NEC transitioned from manual registration to Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) to enhance the quality of the voter register. Additionally, it’s the first general election to be organised with minimal support from external stakeholders. For instance, the election was secured by Liberia security institutions following the exit of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) in March 2018.
Election management bodies are critical for reversing democratic backsliding in Africa. The current democratic reality in Africa places a burden on electoral commissions to reimagine election administration as a panacea for rebuilding public trust in democracy and enabling citizens to reclaim their power to deepen accountability and governance. For this reason, Yiaga Africa deployed an Election Study and Observation Mission (ESOM) from 7th – 13th October 2023 to understudy the electoral governance architecture in Liberia, especially the election results management system. The mission was to ascertain the role of electoral technology in the Liberia 2023 general elections and observe the trends and patterns of citizens’ participation. Yiaga Africa undertook the mission as part of its recently launched Transforming Electoral Governance in Africa initiative (TEGA) project to enable democratic societies and institutions to reimagine electoral governance through evidence-based learning, documentation and advocacy.
The delegation was led by Dr Aisha Abdullahi, a former Commissioner for Political Affairs at the African Union Commission and former Nigerian Ambassador to Guinea, also a member of the board of Yiaga Africa. Other members of the mission include Senator Sharafadeen Alli, Chair of the Nigerian Senate Committee on Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Hon Prince Bayo Balogun, Chairman Nigerian House of Representatives Committee on Electoral Matters, Dr Asmau Maikudi, Former Resident Electoral Commissioner, INEC, Toyin Akinniyi, Vice President, Africa at Luminate, Ezenwa Nwagwu, Chair, Partners for Electoral Reform and Yiaga Africa board member, Francis Madugu, Deputy Country Director, National Democratic Institute (NDI), Nigeria, Maupe Ogun-Yusuf, Broadcast journalist, Channels Television, Esrom Ajanya, Project Coordinator, The Kukah Center, Olusegun Ogundare, Africa Head of Operations & Research, Yiaga Africa, Ibrahim Faruk, Africa Program Coordinator and Samson Itodo, Executive Director, Yiaga Africa. The mission observed the pre-election, election day and post-election processes and environment, including desk reviews, expert briefings, stakeholder meetings, press conferences and key informant interviews.
Generally, the NEC demonstrated commitment to effective election administration despite budget cuts, untimely release of election funding, infrastructural deficits and minimal external support on election security. The early deployment of election materials, prompt commencement of voting and transparent results tallying process reposed confidence in the electoral commission. The transition from manual to biometric voter registration provided a credible foundation for the elections. Yiaga Africa notes that the high turnout for the elections and active citizen engagement in the election signals great prospects for democratic consolidation in Liberia.
Key findings and lessons for Nigeria
- Patriotism and national purpose drive citizens’ participation in the electoral process: Based on preliminary results announced by the NEC, the turnout for the election is projected at over 70%. This impressive turnout was driven by a sense of patriotism and citizens’ commitment to a national purpose, which the mission noted in its observation and interaction with citizens and relevant stakeholders. Liberians displayed a special love for country over political ideologies, interests and affiliations. Long-term investment in civic education and transparent practices by the NEC produced a national consensus to ensure peaceful and credible elections, having experienced two devastating civil wars. The high turnout affirms public trust in elections as a democratic accountability.
- An unwavering commitment to transparency over the speedy conclusion of the process: The Mission observed a firm commitment to transparency on the part of the electoral commission in managing the results tallying process. At the polling places and tallying centres, the NEC officials prioritised the openness of the process over the speedy completion of the process. The NEC officials meticulously enforced counting and results tallying procedures. In addition, objections and queries raised by party agents and observers on inconsistencies of results or misapplication of rules were addressed promptly by NEC officials in line with detailed procedures enshrined in the electoral legal framework. In Liberia, the entire process is conducted in the full view of poll watchers, party agents and observers. Photocopies of each of the results were made available and shared with poll watchers and party agents before the results were entered into the tallying system and projected for everyone present to confirm that the results were consistent with the tally system entry.
- Fidelity to rules and procedures deepens public trust: The National Elections Commission (NEC) displayed high devotion to rules and procedures throughout the elections. Polling officials displayed excellent knowledge of the rules and enforced the guidelines at all election levels. In cases where the rules were flouted, the NEC rectified the issues expeditiously based on a detailed procedure outlined in the guidelines. This compliance with the rules ensures consistency and inspires public confidence in the electoral process. Political parties deployed well-trained party agents who carefully and professionally monitored the process with decorum.
- Format of ballot papers improves voting choices and reduces invalidated votes: Yiaga Africa’s Election Study and Observation Mission (ESOM) observed the design of the ballot papers used for the Presidential and National Assembly elections, contained the party symbol as well as the names and pictures of the candidates Presidential, Senate and the House of Representatives candidates. The format of the ballot papers provides multiple options for indicating a preferred choice. The NEC guidelines require voters to make a mark on the image of the candidate, party logo or square box on the ballot paper corresponding to the candidate of their choice. This format improved voters’ understanding of electoral preference, reducing the incidence of invalid votes.
- Respect for the voting rights of polling staff, election observers, and security officials: As a general principle, all voters in Liberia are legally required to vote in polling places where they are registered. However, exceptions are made for Liberian citizens on essential election duties such as polling officials, election observers, security officers and any citizen providing support to election observers, e.g., drivers. These persons are allowed to vote for the President, regardless of where they are registered to vote, provided they possess a valid 2023 BVR card, an accreditation badge issued by the NEC, or a personal or work-related ID card. Similarly, these persons were allowed to vote in the Senatorial and House of Representatives elections as long as they were within the same county where they registered. This practice protects the right to vote and prevents the disenfranchisement of eligible voters, providing national service.
Recommendations for Nigeria
- Political stakeholders should demonstrate a firm commitment to democracy and nation-building by upholding national values such as patriotism, integrity and public interest in electoral politics.
- INEC should review the format of ballot papers used in Nigeria elections to include photographs and names of candidates to improve the quality of electoral preferences and reduce invalidated votes.
- INEC should undertake a comprehensive audit of the voter register to eliminate duplications, multiple registrants and ineligible voters to improve the integrity of the voter register. The audit process should be subjected to an independent citizen review to engender public trust.
- INEC and state electoral commissions should commit to greater transparency in election administration through proactive disclosure of election information and consistent application of election rules and guidelines.
- The National Assembly and INEC should amend the electoral legal framework (Electoral Act and INEC Guidelines) to introduce early voting to allow eligible voters on essential election duties, such as security personnel, INEC staff, election observers, journalists, etc., to vote at elections.
- The National Assembly should review the Electoral Act to address the ambiguities in the results collation and transmission process and the role of technology in the results management value chain.
- The National Assembly should strengthen the electoral law to make electronic transmission of results mandatory, including the upload of polling unit-level results and results sheets used at different levels of results collation.
Dr. Aisha Abdullahi Samson Itodo
Chair, ESOM Delegation to Liberia Executive Director, Yiaga Africa
For media inquiries, please contact:
Senior Communication Officer,
Tel.: +234 810 321 6621; Email: email@example.com