A robust voter registry is a vital tool to prevent fraud and for poll planning. After numerous attempts Afghanistan still does not have a useable voter register.
The original 2004 voter registration exercise saw 10.6 million Afghans registered with an additional 740,000 out-of-country registrants (with different cards, not usable in Afghanistan) in Pakistan. Out-of-country voting was also conducted in Iran using identity cards, but without prior registration. In the 2005 update, an additional 1.7 million voter cards were issued. Neither exercise linked voters to specific districts or polling centers or provided voter lists. This made district elections – had the delineation of boundaries been agreed, another essential prerequisite – almost impossible. Preparations for polls were also greatly complicated because people could vote anywhere, making turnouts unpredictable. In the 2005 elections, 40 million ballot papers were printed for around 12 million registered voters (each voting in two elections), increasing the potential for fraud.
In September 2005, the European Union election observation mission report noted:
. Two years later, in 2007, an IEC report noted:
“Afghanistan still has no accurate Final Voter List despite two elections. The 2005 update is likely to have led to an increase in multiple registrations”
“The necessity for a detailed and accurate Voter Registry, allocating voters to specific polling stations, cannot be underestimated”.
Following the 2005 parliamentary poll, it was broadly agreed that the voter registry would be tied in with a civil registry, providing the population with national identification while gathering basic data; a 2009 dead- line was set in the Afghanistan Compact. A pilot project commenced in April 2007 only for the cabinet to decide a few months later that the two processes should be separated. In 2008, amid ongoing rivalry between Afghan ministries over control of the project and the data, with elections now looming, attempts at wider exercises were abandoned in favour of yet another voter registry update at a cost of around $80 million.1
An inclusive and accurate voter register that allows for voter lists in polling stations provides a strong safeguard for electoral integrity, and increases electoral efficiency by allocating voters to polling stations. However, after years of effort and significant resources invested, a voter list for polling station use is not available.2
The creation of a reliable voter register in Afghanistan has failed, in spite of much good intention, and the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars.
The e-Tazkira project, which has been running in parallel to the voter register, and to date without any direct involvement from the international community is what will be relied on for the 2014 election. There is justified argument that there is insufficient time for all voters to be registered in time. Registration for the e-Tazkira, in the original planning was intended to take three years.
Some critical success factors have yet to be addressed:
- the technology adopted does not allow for the card to be issued at registration. Delivery of cards, once they have been created in a country that has no postal of even address system poses a significant challenge;
- without a formal address system, assigning voters to a polling station during elections is almost impossible, and is one of the reasons for the certified failure of the previous attempts at voter registration. Associating registrants with the local mosque is a viable solution that is still under consideration.
The e-Tazkira project is well conceived, and thoroughly planned. The majority of the critical success factors have been carefully considered, and the solutions tailored to Afghanistan's specific circumstances.
The chosen modalities are fingerprints and iris, using state of art biometric acquisition hardware that validates the quality of the data as it is being obtained. All 10 fingers and both eyes are being captured.
A Wide Area Network has been put in place to allow the efficient transmission of the data to the central repository.
The ID cards are polycarbonate, and will contain a smart chip containing the bio data, and sufficient biometric data enabling 1:1 matching, where required.
The $100 million project has been delayed while ministries resolved responsibilities for the data acquisition. Also, the IEC believed that it was better placed to recreate a separate biometric voter register, in spite of having failed to do so for the 2009 presidential election. The issue was resolved on January 31, 2013 when President President Hamid Karzai issued a decree that the e-Tazkira would be used to create the voter register for the 2014 presidential election. The logistics of fulfilling in time are daunting.
Afghan e-Tazkira distribution to begin in March
Afghan e-Tazkira distribution to begin in March
Afghan Civil and Voter Registration Pilot Project
Afghanistan Parliamentary Elections 18 September 2010
Afghanistan Presidential and Provincial Council Elections 20 August 2009
Afghanistan’s Election Challenges
Election Date Fixed, but Questions Remain on Next Steps
Electronic National Identification Document (eNID) for the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
Enhancing Legal and Electoral Capacity for Tomorrow
E-tazkera: relieving pre-election tension or adding to the confusion?
Presidential and Provincial Council Elections 20 August 2009
The Afghanistan Compact
UntanglingAfghanistan’s 2010 Vote