Two-Week NEC Voter Registration Tests Begin Countrywide

The National Election Committee (NEC) began a two-week pilot project testing its new biometric voter registration system Sunday, with a goal of registering 32,500 people at 41 centers in the 24 provinces and Phnom Penh.

As part of an overhaul of the country’s electoral system following the disputed 2013 national election, the NEC will begin compiling a new voter list next year, ahead of the 2017 commune elections and 2018 national election.

A woman gets her fingerprint scanned at an election registration center in Phnom Penh's Chamkar Mon district yesterday. (Meghan Tribe)
A woman gets her fingerprint scanned at an election registration center in Phnom Penh’s Chamkar Mon district on Sunday. (Meghan Tribe)

At one of the registration centers in Phnom Penh’s Chamkar Mon district, dozens of residents of Phsar Doeum Thkov commune took the time to sit down with election officials for the roughly five-minute registration process.

Lim Chheng Kai, chief of Phnom Penh election secretariat, said the office would report the result of the two-week trial to the NEC.

“We want to know how long the process would take to register 858 people—will the half a month period be enough time or not enough for the registration?” he said.

Officials in the commune began informing residents about the registration test-run through loudspeakers and pamphlets starting about two weeks ago, he said.

Chhit Huot, 58, who makes and sells metal carts, said he took the short trip to the election registration office after hearing about it through loudspeakers on trucks that drove through his neighborhood.

“The new registration is easier and much more modern than the previous process because there were no machines like this,” Mr. Huot said. “The process uses modern machines like computers, a camera to take the photo and a machine for taking thumbprints.”

The new process captures a photo and thumbprints of each voter, which can then be checked through a computer system that will be available at polling stations throughout the country, reducing the possibility of fraudulent voting.

Following the 2013 election, the CNRP as well as independent election monitors complained of massive irregularities in the voting lists, including hundreds of thousands of names that were either missing or listed more than once.

As part of a compromise struck between the CPP and CNRP last year, the parties agreed to overhaul the NEC, write new election laws and create a new voter list. The NEC’s budget for next year rose to $28 million—a 763 percent increase—to fund the reforms.

Chong Bou, a 45-year-old civil servant, said the new process reduced the likelihood of human error, as it gave voters a chance to check their personal information on a computer screen.

“I checked my name, date of birth, address and clearly saw our thumbprints,” said Mr. Bou, 45, adding that officials previously wrote down the information by hand, without allowing voters to check for errors.

The data collected from the two-week trial, however, will not be officially used and voters from the test communes will have to register again next year.

According to Hang Puthea, spokesman for the NEC, the pilot project is crucial to checking everything from how well the new technology functions, whether local authorities are able to use it and the reaction of voters.

“Whether we get positive or negative results, there will be lessons for NEC to stipulate in the rules and procedures for voter registration in order to produce a new accurate voter list,” Mr. Puthea said.

(Additional reporting by Meghan Tribe)

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