Biometric voter registration kit testing provides glimpse into future of elections in Yemen
SANAA, YEMEN – Standing in a neat little row, only slightly mangled and disorganized near its tail end, 10 small boys glared into the sun on Sunday by a single voter registration centre, each tugging on each other’s shirt bottoms, flipping empty water bottles, and generally being what they knew best to be –boys.
- UNDP has been asked to lead on the procurement of Biometric Voter Registration Kits for Yemen’s upcoming voter registration process.
- SCER and UNDP lead the process of selecting the company to implement the voter registry kits.
- Over 100 students were involved in the testing of the voter registration kits at primary schools in Sanaa.
At the Baghdad Primary School for Boys in Sanaa, these young boys were acting as mock voting-age citizens engaged in a pretend biometric registration drive, designed, coordinated and overseen by United Nations Development Programme-Yemen, the UNDP Global Electoral Procurement Unit, and the Supreme Commission for Elections and Referendum of Yemen.
One-hundred boys from the school, split among three classrooms, mock-registered as they filled out identification forms, snaked through lines, and finally, scanned 10 fingers on each hand while having their photograph snapped by one of three different all-in-one mobile voter registration kits.
“This has me thinking about the future, and voting,” said 12 year-old Younis Ahmed, as he gripped his voter registry receipt tightly. “It was strange, but it was definitely amazing.”
This elaborate, and calculated field testing, one portion of a massive procurement project to ensure free and fair elections in Yemen, began with 18 company submissions, and has landed three finalist companies’ voter registration kits in Sanaa. Over the course of the past two days, 100 boys at the Baghdad Primary School for Boys, and another 100 girls at the Rabba Primary School for Girls on Saturday, was the final testing procedure in a exhaustive procurement process set to make Yemen the first Arab state to deploy biometric voter registration.
“These tests are focused on finding the right solutions for Yemen and its citizens,” said Chairman of the SCER Judge Mohammed Hussein Al-Hakimi, as children streamed inside of classrooms and then emerged a few minutes later fully mock-registered voters. “Our efforts are driven by a determination to launch Yemen onto a course where government is responsive, streamlined, and focused on the needs of its citizenry. This is the first step in realizing this come true.”
Prior to the field-testing, the finalist companies’ equipment was put through laboratory tests, where voter registration kits were dropped and water was spilled onto the kits.
Planned in coordination with the SCER, the mock voter registration exercise tested the mettle of the finalist companies’ equipment, by rigorously requiring the companies register as many primary school-aged girls, and boys, while meeting the standards of global electoral technicians, election commissioners, and Sanaa University Information Technology professors and students acting as registration monitors and operators.
The University professors and students were sequestered for four days, receiving training on three different forms of equipment, as well as three different solutions to the biometric voter registration challenge ahead of Yemen during this tight, electoral event-laden transitional period.
The professors, working as monitors, evaluated the equipment in coordination with UNDP electoral process and management teams, and provided feedback to the evaluation panel due to make a final selection in the coming weeks. While the professors monitored the equipment, and the process, 21 students from the university functioned as voter registration staff, registering girls and boys with the equipment while simultaneously evaluating the usability of the different voter registration kits.
Two-parts capacity training, and one-part equipment evaluation, the students and the professors, provided a marker for the SCER staff that will similarly be trained to register voters across the country. This focus group of operators and monitors will become the foundation for a scaled up approach to register up to 12 million eligible voters in a five-month span. The registration kits will play a central role in the ability of the SCER to reform and register millions of voters. The equipment’s ability to withstand the rough elements of the Yemeni rural landscape, and the potential for civil unrest and conflict, which is already present in the country, will be key to ensuring the project can succeed.
“The SCER, with UNDP experts from the around the globe, has thought about how best to test the equipment,” said United Nations Resident Coordinator Ismail Ould-Cheikh. “This is a Yemeni led-process through and through, with direct support from UNDP, which will ultimately shape and form how Yemen as a country votes and registers, shaping the very foundation of democracy as Yemen transitions.”
Creating a new voter registry is a crucial part of the Gulf Cooperation Council Transitional Agreement, which called for the transfer of power from former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, to his vice-president Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi through Early Presidential Elections, and the establishment of a two-year transition with milestones such as a Comprehensive National Dialogue Conference, a Constitutional Referendum, Parliamentary Elections, and Presidential Elections in 2014 that signal the end of the transition.
Observers to the mock-registration were media outlets, political party representatives, and donors to the project. The project is part in parcel of ongoing UNDP-led support to electoral reform, which is funded through the Multi-Donor Basket Fund, an innovative funding instrument that provides rapid action funding for coming electoral processes and events in Yemen. Currently, donors to the Basket Fund have contributed roughly $18.9 million, and the Government of Yemen has similarly pledged $64.6 million.
The Multi-Donor Basket Fund is composed of the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Sweden, Japan, Denmark, the Netherlands, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the European Union.