Enhancing Democratization in Rwanda through New Voter Registration Cards

Voter registration cards arrive Following the genocide in 1994, Rwandans have struggled to rebuild their country. A critical part of this process has been to try and create a democratic system of government based on representative elections and the rule of law.

USAID/Rwanda has contributed significantly to this democratization process through a two-year dot-ORG project to strengthen the capacity of the Rwandan National Electoral Commission (NEC) via information and communications technologies (ICTs).

Implemented by the Academy for Educational Development (AED), dot-ORG is working with the NEC to create and maintain a national voter database, print fraud-resistant voter registration cards, network regional Commission offices, and pilot hand-held computers to collect and validate voter registration information.

As a result of this project, on January 27, 2004, dot-ORG delivered 4.1 million fraud-resistant voter registration cards to the NEC. These voter cards have preprinted names and voter ID numbers for all 3.9 million Rwandan voters for use in upcoming elections. An additional 200,000 blank cards were also provided so that the NEC can print cards for new voters or to replace lost cards.

The process of developing and delivering these cards was multi-faceted and involved a high level of capacity building and technical assistance for the NEC.

Decentralization of Voter Registration Updates
The first step was to update the NEC's national voter registration database. Previously, the NEC used a paper-based, centralized voter data collection system, which resulted in tremendous delays and a high number of errors.

As NEC Executive Secretary, Mr. Pierre Damien Habumuremyi, recalled,

My worst moments were receiving thousands of [paper] forms from all over the country, sorting them and then entering the data into the computers. In many cases data was entered more than once and much more was left out.

Together with the dot-ORG project team, NEC staff developed a system to digitize the voter records and to decentralize the updating process through the NEC's 12 provincial offices. The provincial offices had been provided with computer systems through the dot-ORG project.

Under this new system, staff at each of the provincial offices updated local information into a local copy of the voter database and sent this information to the NEC's central computer system. Data from each provincial office was then consolidated into the national database and validated to remove duplicate records and flag incomplete or questionable data.

Increases in productivity achieved through this decentralized and computerized process makes it possible for the NEC to continuously update its database without the use of costly temporary staff. As a result, new voters can now receive their voter registration cards much more quickly.

The NEC subsequently used the updated voter registration list in Rwanda's recent presidential election. In this presidential election, reports from voting stations stated that the more accurate voter lists created from the voter database resulted in a much lower error rate than in past elections. This resulted in enabling more registered voters to vote and participate in the democratic process in Rwanda.

The Voter Cards Arrive
While the NEC was updating the database, a Canadian firm (CODE, Inc) that specialized in election materials worked with the NEC to design fraud-resistant voter registration cards. This design included embedding a security watermark and special paper. Once the design was finalized, CODE printed the cards at its headquarters in Ottawa and shipped the cards to Kigali.

To ensure that the cards were not tampered with between the printers and delivery to the NEC, two officials from CODE accompanied the cargo to Rwanda. Officials of the Commission and dot-ORG project received the cards in Rwanda and then the NEC began storing and distributing the cards to voters.

Enhancing Democracy and Good Governance in Rwanda
Equally important as the provision of the voter cards, the dot-ORG program has helped increase the capacity of the NEC to manage elections in Rwanda over the long term. For example, dot-ORG resource partner GeekCorps trained the NEC's IT staff to support the IT infrastructure, including database design and maintenance. In addition, the Commission can now print new and replacement voter cards using the high-speed printer provided by dot-ORG, the training provided to the NEC staff, and the additional 200,000 blank cards.

After handing over the voter cards to the NEC, the Commission's Executive Secretary, Mr. Pierre Damien Habumuremyi, said:

The referendum elections and the Presidential and Parliamentary elections last year were the first democratic elections in Rwanda since independence in 1962. Considering the need for reconciling the nation after the upheavals of 1994, the implementation of transparent, democratic and good governance process and institutions is vital for a peaceful future of our country.

AED, under the dot-ORG project, was awarded the Rwanda Project July 3, 2002 for a period of two years (Award No. 623-G-00-02-00056-00 under the dot-ORG Leader Award No.GDG-A-00-01-00014-00.)

For More Information, Contact:
Michael Tetelman
Acting Director, dot-ORG
Academy for Educational Development
Tel: 202 884 8856

Field: Gerald Mpyisi
Project Coordinator, dot-ORG/Rwanda
Academy for Educational Development

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Rwanda - ICTs for Elections and Community Access
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Core funding for the DOT-COM Alliance is provided by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Bureau for Economic Growth, Agriculture & Trade, Office of Infrastructure and Engineering (EGAT/OI&E), Office of Education (EGAT/ED), and Office of Women in Development (EGAT/WID), under the terms of Award numbers: GDG-A-00-01-00009-00, dot-GOV; GDG-A-00-01-00014-00, dot-ORG; GDG-A-00-01-00011-00, dot-EDU.
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