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During and after the 2012 Papua New Guinean parliamentary elections International Observers and press reports alleged that some voters had been disenfranchised because of failings in the voter register.

That some voters were disenfranchised does not appear to be in dispute. That flaws within the voters register were the cause is an over-simplification. The most significant drawback, that voters do not have an ID card reflecting their voter ID number, is not a failing of the system. But this makes it almost impossible to reliably link the voter to the record in the database, and to remedy this requires a complete new registration of all Papua New Guinean voters.

In the absence of the voter ID number, to match the voter to a record in the register requires trying to use the voters details, including last name and forenames, to find the voter’s record in the data. A simple test conducted against the voter register exemplifies the issues with this approach. The Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea is Peter O’Neill. There is no-one by that name on the voter register, because his last name was erroneously spelled as O’Nell when it was captured.

Without the voter registration number finding a voters record is an inefficient exercise that produces uncertain results.
The PNG parliament recently approved a project to create a new population register incorporating a biometric e-card. This will form the foundation of the Integrated Government Information System, of which the Electoral Roll is expected to be part. This is an opportunity to remedy the absence of a voter ID card, provided that doing so does not compromise Electoral Commission’s statutory independence.

The population registration data can only be used to create a new voters register if the Electoral Commission (PNGEC) is satisfied with the reliability of the data acquisition and the quality of the resultant data. That means, at the very least, that the PNGEC’s employees have a supervisory role during the data acquisition.

Because of lack of agreement to respect the PNGEC’s constitutional obligations by the ministry mandated with the e-ID project, the PNGEC has been instructed to conduct a separate registration of the country’s citizens at considerable additional cost to the tax-payer and the donor community.