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Liberian Pollwatchers Protect Ballot Security, Peace
After seven years of civil war, Liberia in July conducted
presidential and legislative elections. To ensure that all candidates accepted the results peacefully, it was important for the parties to have an independent means of appraising the voting and tabulation process. IRI trained and supplied over 13,000 Liberian pollwatchers, enabling parties to observe the election nation-wide.
The United States has had a long relationship with Liberia, a country the size of Tennessee with a pre-war population of 2.6 million. Settled by former American slaves, Liberia has retained close links with the U.S., as illustrated by the fact that 16 of 20 Liberian presidents were educated in the United States. The Allies used Liberia as a major wartime transit point during World War II, and its strategic significance continued during the Cold War.
Well before the election, an IRI assessment team saw a need for each competing party to be fully aware of the election laws and administrative rules before the day of the vote. IRI deployed a two-member team to Liberia in June. They prepared an illustrated pollwatching manual that made the election law and the rules governing party pollwatchers easily accessible and understandable to party activists. IRI used these manuals to train 850 Liberians not only to be pollwatchers, but also to go into their own villages and teach others the methods of free and fair elections.
By election day, IRI had a hand in training more than 13,747 party pollwatchers, a multiplier effect of 16 persons deployed for every IRI-trained pollwatcher. In addition, IRI distributed 9,000 copies of the pollwatcher manual to the parties for use in their own workshops. IRI worked individually with the ballot security officers of each political party to discuss ballot security strategies and other issues to protect voter and candidate confidence.
On election day, IRI visited rural and urban polling sites to evaluate the impact of the program. At least one party pollwatcher was present at most balloting sites and many sites had multiple observers. U.S. Special Envoy to Liberia Howard Jeter remarked after the voting, "It was very impressive to visit the polling station and see so many pollwatchers trained by IRI." United Nations, Carter Center, and Friends of Liberia observers also commented on the quality of the IRI training and its penetration throughout the country.
The program allowed the candidates and parties to evaluate the validity of the election and, in the end, maintain the peace.