Is there still time for NEC to complete biometric voter registration for Tanzania’s constitution referendum?

Nipashe, 11/3/15

Nipashe, 11/3/15

The cartoon above highlights that we are rapidly running out of time for the official education process. But the bigger obstacle seems likely to be the voter registration process. Is there still enough time for Tanzania’s National Electoral Commission (NEC) to complete biometric voter registration by April 30, 2015?

Using some figures shared by NEC and quoted in the media, I have done some rough calculations. It’s not possible to be precise, and there are several assumptions involved, so I cannot give a firm conclusion. But I think it gives a useful indication of the challenge.

So, on the back of an envelope …

Let’s start with some basic numbers and dates:

  • 25,000,000 – The approximate number of Tanzanians of voting age (based on the 2012 census)
  • 8,000 – The number of Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) kits expected to be available (Source)
  • 30/3/15 – The date when NEC says that all 8,000 BVR kits will be available (Source)
  • 30/4/15 – The scheduled date of the constitution referendum

To see whether registering 25m people by April 30th is a realistic possibility, the key question is the speed at which NEC can carry out registrations  – the number of registrations per BVR kit per day.

We can estimate this number in three different ways.

First, we can use the official NEC figure of what the BVR kits are capable of: 80-160 registrations per BVR kit per day (Source). Let’s take the midpoint: 120 voters per kit per day.

Second, we can look at how many people have been registered already in Njombe region (the only region so far), using the 250 BVR kits. After the first ten days, NEC stated that 46,709 voters were registered (Source), which works out as 4,671 voters each day, or 39 voters per kit per day.

Third, we can look at NEC’s estimate of how long it will take to complete registration in Njombe. Registration in Njombe started on Feb 23rd, and NEC states it will be complete by April 12th (Source). This means NEC thinks it will take 48 days to register around 400,000 voting-age adults in Njombe (Census data), using 250 BVR kits. This works out as 8,333 registrations per day, or 33 voters per kit per day.

The conclusion from these three different estimates is that registration has been much slower in practice than the theoretical capability of the BVR machines . It may be technically possible to register 80-160 voters per BVR kit per day, but in practice NEC has only managed to register 33-39 voters per BVR kit per day.

Now, let’s use each of these three different estimates to see whether it might be possible to complete voter registration before April 30th:

rate of registration (voters per kit per day) days required earliest possible completion date assessment
120 26 25/4/15 very tight
39 80 18/6/15 too late
33 95 2/7/15 too late

In other words, the only way a referendum can be held on April 30th is if NEC can register voters far, far faster than they have done in Njombe. And if they spend hardly any time at all on training or travel.

I can’t see any reason why it should be any quicker in other regions. There are no economies of scale here, and no chance for NEC officials to become more efficient as they get used to the process, because registration will need to take place in all regions concurrently. And obviously time will be needed for both training and travel. Realistically, it looks like the earliest time by which voter registration could be complete is mid/late June , nearly two months late for the planned referendum date. In short, it looks impossible.


UPDATE – 17/3/15, 10am (EAT)

It seems that the government agrees.

The Citizen reports today that a Cabinet meeting on Sunday decided “to postpone the referendum, owing to challenges arising from the slow pace in issuance of new bio-metric voters’ cards.” The article goes on to say that alternative dates being considered are August 2015 and October 2015. This second option would coincide with the general election.

We will discover this week whether the Citizen’s sources are correct. Changing the referendum date will require an amendment to the law on the constitutional review, which will need to happen very soon.

3 thoughts on “Is there still time for NEC to complete biometric voter registration for Tanzania’s constitution referendum?

  1. Pingback: Africa Matters Ltd » TANZANIA NEWS UPDATE – 17 MARCH 2015

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