Voter Registration Improvement is a Priority for Iraqi Leadership
Having a reliable voter register is a key concern for election management bodies. An accurate voter register ensures voter access to, and the integrity of, the electoral process. Launched in October 2011, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems’ (IFES) Iraq Elections Support Project (ESP) provides technical assistance to the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC), the Iraqi election management body, in various areas including voter registration.
In late 2013, the IHEC began introducing technology into the election process through the start of Automated Voter Registration (AVR). The goal of AVR is to register voters electronically, use technology to decrease fraud and identify voters at the polling station. IFES has advised the IHEC on the implementation of the AVR process since its inception.
The implementation of AVR in Iraq takes place in two stages. The first phase involves the issuance of electronic voter cards based on the current voter list and the second phase requires the collection of biometric data, such as finger prints and facial information, to more accurately identify voters in order to reduce fraud. The IHEC requested IFES’ expertise to assist it with both of these phases prior to the April 2013 Council of Representatives (CoR) elections. However, due to the short timeframe, it was not feasible to fully implement both phases of AVR implementation for all of Iraq’s 21 million voters prior to the elections. Therefore, the IHEC focused on the roll-out of the AVR system and the manufacture and distribution of electronic voting cards, which were used in the CoR elections in conjunction with existing paper-based identification systems.
With the existing database and software programs, particularly the voter registry and tabulation software that are aimed to transition into a biometric enabled system, IFES has continued to support the transition process and coaching of the IHEC programmers and staff to prepare for phase two. Also, as part of its efforts, IFES developed and submitted a report to the IHEC on the exchange of data between the IHEC system and the Ministry of the Interior’s (MOI) national card system. This report discussed the advantages and challenges of the database merging between the IHEC and the MOI and included recommendations to improve the quality of the Automated Voter Registry. The IHEC’s objective is to have the AVR process completed for the 2018 CoR elections.
The introduction of AVR lays the basis for continuous voter registration (CVR) – another effort by the IHEC to improve the integrity and reliability of the voter register. CVR is a process whereby the electoral register is maintained and continually updated. IFES has supported the IHEC to transition to a CVR system and continues to assist the IHEC in developing the necessary protocols and procedures to implement this process. Since AVR was planned with a two-phased approach, CVR is inherent in the rollout model. IFES is working with the IHEC to develop strategies for regular revisiting of areas to facilitate ongoing voter registration, card dispersion mechanisms and ensuring that all voters have a chance to register. In December 2014, the IHEC Board of Commissioners met with Iraqi President Fuad Masum and Speaker of the CoR Salim al-Jabouri to discuss the CVR process. Iraq’s leadership indicated its support for the modernization efforts that the IHEC is leading with support from IFES.