Election NGOs to Begin Testing New Voter Registration System

Testing of a computerized voter registration system will begin next month in the hopes of addressing flaws in the current system, which remains susceptible to election fraud, a coalition of NGOs working to promote democracy in the country announced Thursday.

The Electoral Reform Alliance (ERA) has been working toward improving the country’s widely-criticized voter registration system since the CPP and CNRP began negotiating election reform in August, with the aim of passing it on to the National Election Committee (NEC) prior to the next election in 2017.

Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, said at a roundtable meeting of the ERA Thursday that the technology was now ready for testing.

“With a new modernized voter registration system, we can input thumbprints, photographs and the identification cards of voters,” he said. “Another thing is that we can reduce the mistakes…and ensure there are no double names.”

“We are going to do a pilot in two communes in Ratanakkiri and Kompong Cham provinces,” Mr. Panha said, adding that the pilots would take place in Ratanakkiri from January 11 to 19 and in Kompong Cham from January 14 to 22.

The electoral roll has come under fire from local and international election monitors for including double names and missing many others.

An internal audit carried out by the NEC two weeks before the July 2013 election found that 9 percent of people registered to vote in the election could not find their names on the voter list, and would thus be unable to cast their ballot.

A similar audit by Comfrel had found that about 1.25 million people would be disenfranchised by not being able to find their names. Another audit, carried out by the National Democratic Institute, found that 10 percent of people registered to vote in the election did not appear to exist.

The July 28 election was eventually lost by the CNRP by 289,793 votes, according to the NEC’s official results.

Mr. Panha said many of the system’s shortcomings were down to the fact that responsibility for registration is currently shared between the NEC and commune clerks, explaining that the NEC could operate an electronic system on its own.

The system, he said, would only require one computer per registration site, with an Internet connection to send the data to Phnom Penh for processing.

“We think that to implement voter registration for about 10 million people, we would have to spend only about 80 days,” Mr. Panha said.

“When we carry out [the pilot] with success, we will make a document recommending that the new NEC take our system …and do a pilot themselves officially,” he added.

NEC secretary-general Tep Nytha said he has no problem with the ERA pilot, but was not sure if a computerized system would be a panacea for voter-list problems.

“I do not know what they are doing but I think even countries like the Philippines and Bangladesh that have implemented a new modern system still have double names,” he said. “This is them advertising, and it is their right.”

CNRP official Kuoy Bunroeun, who has been named as one of the opposition’s appointments to the new NEC when it is formed early next year, said he welcomed the pilot program as it could safeguard citizens’ right to vote.

“We can delete anything suspicious that occurs—especially the issue of double names, ghost names and the names of anyone who doesn’t have the right to vote but has their name on their voter list,” Mr. Bunroeun told reporters after the roundtable meeting.

“But we need to examine this mechanism and what challenges it could face, for example, in timing, and secondly it’s a matter of budget, whether we can afford to cover the big spending…and whether Internet access will be convenient.”

Mr. Bunroeun said he would raise the proposal with the CPP in election reform talks Friday.

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