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Digital voter registry hits snags

People search a registration list for their names in Prey Veng province
People search a registration list for their names in Prey Veng province in 2013 during the national elections. A new computerised voter registration system has started trials in a select number of locations. Vireak Mai

Digital voter registry hits snags

Pilot tests for Cambodia’s new computerised voter registration system are off to a rough start after one commune refused yesterday to participate in the trials.

The $17 million system, which uses computers to record voters’ thumbprints and photos, and issues voter card printouts, was slated to undergo informal assessments in one selected commune each in Ratanakkiri, Kampong Cham, Kampong Chhnang and Phnom Penh between Friday and January 29.

Officials from Kampong Cham’s Srak commune, one of the chosen localities, however, said they are unable to participate due to a lack of personnel with technical experience.

“We cannot help them,” said Srak commune chief Seang Chet. “They are asking me to find people who can type names and addresses on a computer, but I don’t have the staff who can do that and assist them.”

Developed by the Electoral Reform Alliance and election watchdog Comfrel, the new system seeks to eliminate electoral irregularities and ensure accuracy by replacing the current pen-and-paper registry after 1.2 million eligible voters were found deleted in the last election’s roster – a major omission that the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party said led to its loss in 2013.

“I’m not sure if they are clear on how this could benefit them,” Comfrel executive director Koul Panha said. “We are going back there again [today] to meet with them, because we can’t do it by ourselves; we need their cooperation.”

According to Panha, 50 villagers are needed to operate the system during the test, which lasts for six to seven days.

The pilot has been under way in Ratanakkiri’s Pakte commune since January 9, and it is scheduled for Kampong Chhnang’s Trapaing Chan commune on January 18. A date for Phnom Penh hasn’t been finalised just yet.

“It’s going quite well, and the locals are quick learners … but it’s not perfect yet,” said Panha, adding that they aim to have volunteers spend an average of seven minutes processing each voter.

Srak commune chief Chet said he supports the initiative but unfortunately, his hands are tied.

“I agree that this new computerised system is good and maybe we can give them a place to do the test, but I just don’t have any people who can help,” Chet said.

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