Covering the Basics? Reflecting on Civic and Voter Education in Grand Gedeh

GEFOINET is an organisation accredited to conduct Civic and Voter registration.

Effective Civic and Voter Education (CVE) efforts are crucial to ensuring all potential voters have the necessary information to not only exercise their right to register but also to understand and have confidence in the entire electoral process. For the first time in 2023, Liberia is using Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) to compile the voter’s roll. The National Elections Commission (NEC) carried out a nationwide BVR initiative in two phases, (Phase 1 from 20 March-09 April 2023 and Phase 2 from 21 April – 11 May 2023). Public CVE outreach strategies and information dissemination methods were held in respective counties by both NEC and Community Based Organisations (CBOs). Today we are looking at CVE initiatives observed by EISA LTO’s deployed to Grand Gedeh during Phase 2 of the BVR process. Observers covered three (3) electoral districts in Zwedru including 21 BVR registration centersin Cavallah, Konobo, Gbo, B’hai, and Tchien.

Quick Facts

  • The NEC is responsible
    for conducting CVE in Liberia
  • Liberia’s adult literacy rate is improving: 48.3% in 2017, 42.9% in 2007
  • EISA notes that collaborations between
    CSOs and NEC are in line with regional/ continental best practice and normative frameworks which suggest that while the state and an EMB bears principal responsibility for voter education, the
    opportunity for civil society and international organizations to contribute to voter education efforts should exist, (569 AU, ACDEG,
    art. 12).

EISA LTO’s were impressed by the NEC’s collaboration with CBOs in raising voter registration awareness of potential registrants. The strategies deployed by CBOs to mobilise registrants were people-focused, with an appreciation of the socio-economic conditions of voters in the area. Strategies employed to undertake the CVE included outreach activities, direct engagement through market days, home visits, media programs, social media and the use of posters. These initiatives were highly effective at reaching people at their level and relaying messages in a language that people understand. Market days were very effective as the market is an important place of business in Liberia, with stalls that are led by women.
Women are often unable to participate in political processes due to family responsibilities which includes
childcare, working in places such as farms and markets. It was therefore exciting to see the active inclusion of women from local markets in the CVE.

In Zwedru, EISA LTO’s observed the excellent voter education work of GEFOINET, a local organisation accredited to conduct CVE. EISA also saw other CBO’s use innovative ways of directly engaging with communities through radio programs, sports tournaments and the formation of community cells for youth, women and persons living with disabilities.

“Our best highlight was engaging with marketeers in Zwedru central market who had a lot of misconceptions on the registration requirements but after engaging them 98% went on to register.” -Dixon Leabah, Network Coordinator, GEFOINET.
GEFOINET is an organisation accredited to conduct Civic and Voter registration.

Observations made by EISA LTOs confirm that CVE efforts that work best are ones which cover the basics by delivering information in a way that is practical, relatable and convenient for people. For the BVR process, CVE must ensure that people are informed of their rights to register and why and how they should exercise their right. A key challenge with CVE in Grand Gedeh like other counties of Liberia was illiteracy. In 2017, Liberia’s illiteracy rate stood at 51,7% according to Local Voices of Liberia’s Fact Check. Although the illiteracy rate has been declining over the years, more than half of people above 18 years
are unable to read or write. It is very important for the election process to consider practical ways of ensuring that Liberians from all walks of life are included in the electoral process. Positive practices EISA
observed include the use of megaphones to relay information in local languages and community cells to tackle misconceptions around the BVR process. In the BVR centers, EISA LTOs appreciated that registrants that could not sign against their names as proof of registration were assisted by NEC officials to use indelible ink to sign with their fingerprint instead of a pen. The use of posters was widespread, and all the posters seen were in English. CBOs therefore needed more time and financial resources to ensure that the posters were understood by registrants.

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The availability of resources for CBOs to conduct CVE was also a huge challenge across the country. Stakeholders consulted in Grand Gedeh and Lofa reported that the contract signed by NEC and organizations conducting CVE stipulated that 40% down payment would be made upon signing the contract and 60% at the end. However, by the end of the BVR period no payments had been issued and the organisations were left to pre finance the project. The role played by community media was significant in contributing to CVE. In Zwedru for Instance Smile FM was running several programs aimed at highlighting the importance of BVR and urging citizens to go and register.

LTOs engaging with members of the community.

“The interactive programs had drawn the attention of many stakeholders, but lack of funding was a barrier in that it was not easy to provide cover in remote areas.” – Solomon Lewis, Smile FM Station Manager.

It was impressive to note the high numbers of youth and women that turned up to register. The deliberate efforts made to mobilise women through the community cells and Information materials such as banners, flyers and posters dotted around various districts was impressive. Collaboration and targeted outreach will be essential throughout the electoral process.

Elections impact the lives of everyone, and EISA’s LTOs were pleased to witness the active engagement of communities, citizens, and organizations during Phase 2 of Liberia’s BVR process. This ownership of the election process by communities is a positive reflection on the enthusiasm of Liberians for democracy. There is still a long way to go until October 2023, but the involvement and support for Liberia’s electoral process by its key stakeholders, the voters, is very significant and can only benefit the people of Liberia in 2023 and beyond. The work of CBOs like GEFOINET and others very often goes under-appreciated at local levels, but it is these efforts that build a strong and vibrant democracy for a country.

About USAID Support to EISA-IEOM to Liberia: The USAID-funded EISA International Election Observation Mission (EISA-IEOM) Activity seeks to enhance the integrity of the 2023 Liberia Presidential and Legislative elections through the deployment of an independent international election observer mission (EOM) to monitor, assess and report on all phases of the electoral process in accordance with international and regional benchmarks. The IEOM is implemented in close coordination with and the financial support of USAID/Liberia and will complement the efforts of other electoral stakeholders. EISA-IEOM has deployed international LTOs across Liberia to observe BVR Phase 2 of the registration and will compile a Phase 2 and comprehensive BVR report at the conclusion of the inspection process.