Viewing cable 07DHAKA1095
Title: GOVERNMENT'S PHOTO VOTER LIST PILOT PROJECT A

IdentifierCreatedReleasedClassificationOrigin
07DHAKA10952007-07-03 08:29:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Dhaka
VZCZCXRO2107
RR RUEHCI
DE RUEHKA #1095/01 1840829
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 030829Z JUL 07
FM AMEMBASSY DHAKA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 4459
INFO RUEHLM/AMEMBASSY COLOMBO 7997
RUEHIL/AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD 1724
RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU 9167
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 0018
RUEHCI/AMCONSUL KOLKATA 0819
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK
RHHMUNA/USCINCPAC HONOLULU HI
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 DHAKA 001095 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/03/2017 
TAGS: PHUM PGOV KGOV KDEM BG
SUBJECT: GOVERNMENT'S PHOTO VOTER LIST PILOT PROJECT A 
SUCCESS 
 
 
Classified By: Charge d'Affaires, a.i. Geeta Pasi for reasons 1.4(d) 
 
¶1. (SBU) SUMMARY. The Bangladesh Election Commission's 
three-week pilot project to test new methodologies for 
compiling the voter list officially ended on June 28.  The 
pilot, which took place in Sreepur north of Bangladesh, 
registered approximately 46,000 voters and tested different 
data collection methods to create a voter list with 
photographs. END SUMMARY. 
 
THREE-WEEK PILOT ENDED JUNE 28 
============================== 
 
¶2. (SBU) On June 10, the Bangladesh Election Commission began 
a three-week project to test different methodologies and 
technologies for preparing a voter list with photographs 
(photo voter list, or PVL).   Election Commission workers, 
with significant assistance from the Army, set up 30 
registration centers in Sreepur, a town of approximately 
44,000 voters located in Gazipur municipality about 20 miles 
north of Dhaka. The pilot project officially ended on June 
¶28. Consultants from the United Nations Development Program 
(UNDP) also worked closely with the Election Commission to 
develop the pilot. 
 
¶3. (SBU) The process of registering people for the PVL varies 
considerably from previous practice in Bangladesh.  Earlier, 
enumerators would go door-to-door, preparing fresh lists 
every five years for parliamentary elections.  The ability to 
update the list was limited because the data was not 
computerized or even alphabetically or geographically 
organized.  People were sometimes given a receipt with their 
voter number on it, without which it would be difficult to 
find their names on the voter list.  This meant that on 
election day, voters without that receipt were dependent on 
political party camps located outside of voting centers to 
give them their registration numbers.  According to some 
election observation missions, this was an invitation to 
electoral fraud. 
 
PROVISIONAL VOTER ID A MAJOR INCENTIVE 
====================================== 
 
¶4. (SBU) The pilot in Sreepur tested two methods for 
registering people, both of which required voters to visit 
registration centers.  All people over 16 years of age could 
be registered; though the voting age is 18, election 
officials wanted to make sure the list created included all 
those who would be eligible to vote in December 2008, when 
parliamentary elections are anticipated.  As an incentive to 
go to the centers, prospective voters were offered a 
laminated provisional voter identity card when they 
registered.  According to diplomats who visited the Sreepur 
pilot, people indicated to them the ID card was a major 
reason they went to register. 
 
¶5. (SBU) The overall voter registration plan includes 
provisions to use the initial voter list data collection 
process as a jumping-off point for the collection of data for 
a national identity card.  According to the Election 
Commission, the voter registry will not be dependent on 
completion of the national ID card program, which according 
to the Bangladesh government could take up to five years. 
 
¶6. (SBU) During the pilot, the Election Commission tested two 
types of software, both of which had been procured by the 
Army shortly after the declaration of the state of emergency 
on January 11 (Reftel).  Different types of digital cameras 
and computer equipment were also used to see which systems 
worked best and minimized the time required to register each 
voter.  At the initiative of the Army, they also tried out 
different types of portable fingerprint scanners for eventual 
use in the national ID card project.  According to UNDP, 
tenders for the procurement of some equipment have already 
been released.  Companies will have 40 days to submit bids 
for review.  The Election Commission has stressed to us they 
plan to follow Bangladesh procurement law to the letter to 
ensure the bidding is free of corruption. 
 
ARMY PLAYING MAJOR ROLE 
======================= 
 
¶7. (SBU) According to diplomats from donor countries who 
visited the pilot, the Army was "very present" at 
 
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registration centers.  Although the Election Commission has 
tried to downplay the Army's role, Army officers in Sreepur 
characterized the situation as "the Election Commission is 
supporting us," rather than the other way around.   One 
diplomat described the role of the civilians as "auxiliary" 
to the Army, taking the form of enumerators and data entry 
operators. 
 
POSITIVE -- BUT QUALIFIED -- REVIEWS 
==================================== 
 
¶8. (SBU) Election Commission officials are heralding the 
pilot as a success, claiming that even more than the expected 
44,000 voters had been registered during the process. (NOTE: 
Accurate population statistics are difficult to get, and the 
initial 44,000 figure was only an estimate based on census 
and previous voter list data.)  The Commission has said it 
will announce an elections "roadmap" by July 15.  One 
expected element of this roadmap will be the announcement of 
voter registration in Rajshahi, Bangladesh's fifth largest 
city, by mid-August, with Khulna and Dhaka to follow soon 
after.  Because of resource and budget constraints, the 
Commission cannot conduct registration throughout the entire 
country simultaneously, but has opted instead for a "rolling" 
registration focusing on the most difficult and fraud-prone 
areas first.  According to one donor's estimate, this means 
running about 170 Sreepur-like operations at any one time 
over the next twelve months. 
 
¶9. (C) Several diplomats who visited the pilot said the 
Bangladeshis were much further along in the development of 
the process than they had expected.  While praising the 
efficiency of the process, several donors are asking the 
Commission and UNDP for an outside organization to check the 
accuracy of the pilot list.  Two of the biggest potential 
donors to the PVL project, the European Commission and the 
United Kingdom's Department for International Development, 
have also asked how the Election Commission and UNDP plan to 
incorporate "lessons learned" from the Sreepur exercise into 
the overall PVL strategy. 
 
COMMENT: A SUCCESSFUL STEP, BUT SERIOUS QUESTIONS REMAIN 
============================================= =========== 
 
¶10. (C) The new voter registration process has enormous 
potential to improve the way elections in Bangladesh operate. 
 While the pilot appears to have gone better than expected, 
there remain several unresolved issues like the role of the 
Army in the overall registration process, and how a country 
lacking data protection legislation will guarantee 
registration information is properly controlled and not 
misused.  Most challenging, however, is the scale of the task 
ahead: expanding a successful but limited pilot to reach the 
estimated 70 to 80 million potential voters within the 
one-year timeframe the Election Commission has set for 
itself, especially given the lack of basic infrastructure and 
skilled information technology workers outside major urban 
areas. 
PASI