Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Impediments to voter registration in Côte d’Ivoire

Starting June 1, the Electoral Commission (CEI) has launched a major campaign to revise the 2010/2011 voter registration list. Basically the goals are threefold: to make sure that those who have moved or prefer to vote in a different locality (and voted previously) are in fact on the list at the right polling station; to remove those voters who have died from the lists or who have married and changed their names; and to enroll those who were previously not on the lists (those who are over the age of 18, those who failed to register previously, newly naturalized citizens, etc.)

A FAQ to be distributed during the sensitization campaigns
In order to register, one needs to bring one of two identification documents, either one’s certificate of nationality, or one’s national ID card. The catch is, the certificate of nationality issued before 2015 is no longer valid, as there were a lot of problems with fraud and so the new certificates are “sécurisé” and cost 3,300 FCFA (~$6) to obtain from the Ministry of Justice; many people do not have the newest certificate. What about national ID cards? Well, if you have it, you are set and can easily register to vote. If you never had one or you lost yours, you’ll have to request a new one from the Organization of National Identification for 5,000 FCFA (~$10); but to do this you need the NEW certificate of nationality, and you will have to leave the original with the ONI office, to obtain a receipt of payment until you receive your ID card. So, let’s say I lost my ID card last month, and I went to the ONI to get a new one. They take my original certificate of nationality, and hand me a receipt for the ID card, telling me I won’t have the ID card for another two months. Time to register to vote rolls around; I now no longer have the original certificate of nationality nor an ID card, and the CEI does not accept the receipt for the ID card as valid identification to register to vote. So I can’t vote, unless I spend the time and money to re-obtain a copy of the certificate of nationality, which probably takes just as long to obtain as an ID card.

This was the most common complaint about the process that I have encountered working with the sensitization agents; despite the fact that many people said they wouldn’t register or were uninterested in the process, many who were interested felt discouraged because their papers were not in order. And since the campaign was only for a period of one month, it severely limited who was able to register now. In particular, it disproportionately affects young people, as they are the least likely to have the papers needed.
photo: a young man who was able to register to vote with the old certificate of nationality; Divo June 2015
CEI itself

The CEI centers are understaffed and those who are there often left earlier, according to both of the teams I worked with. CEI agents defended themselves saying that oftentimes nobody showed up to register anyway, so why should they stay open? Additionally, the CEI has failed to let the population know where the centers are where they could register, so that was left to the sensitization agents; meaning if you were not reached by these agents in the neighborhood, you may not ever know where it is you were supposed to register.

There was also confusion as to who was supposed to go to the centers; on posters and even on my t-shirt it says “I will verify that my name is on the voter list.” However, many people went to the centers to do just that, only to be turned away and told that the centers were only for those who needed to newly register. About halfway through the month, the CEI changed their tune, but at that point many were already discouraged and did not desire to return. On top of that, we had one elderly woman approach us, saying she had tried to check her name on the list, but was told to go to a web site to see if her name was there; this supposed website of course does not exist, but also this woman had no idea how to use internet, and had purposely made the trip from afar to verify her name.

The CEI is underfunded, especially in comparison to 2010. International donors do not see much at stake in these elections, and those who have chosen to support it can only do so much. The population notices the difference, pointing out the fact that media campaigns on the process were much more widespread in the past, while this year it has been sparse at best.

Finally, the CEI has so far failed in its efforts – they were expecting 3 million new registrants, but have received around 400,000. Today was supposed to be the last day, officially, for registration, but they have extended the process by two weeks (until July 12). However, since the main obstacles seem to be about paperwork, extending by two weeks may not help the problem. The other question is whether they will extend the sensitization process as well.

Apathy and Acquiescence
Not really a direct impediment, per se, but people have lost faith in the democratic process associated with elections after the crisis in 2010. With an impressive 80% turnout rate (53% of the voting age population, which is the same as the US), people expected those elections to bring the violence and war to an end; unfortunately, the elections did just the opposite. People are therefore fearful and distrusting of the electoral process.

Furthermore, many people do not see the CEI as legitimate. The current CEI president, Bakayoko, was the CEI president in 2010 and it was he that declared Ouattara the winner; many believe that he should not be the current president because he has this partisan perception. The opposition has been calling for this to be changed since he was re-elected, by members of the [not perceived as neutral] commission.

Finally, there is the question as to whether Ouattara himself is legitimate, again bringing up the issue of nationality since both his parents are not believed to be Ivorian.

photo: a heated discussion with those who did not want to register because “their candidate” is not participating in the elections; Adjamé, June 2015

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