Supporting Inclusivity in Libya’s National Congress Election: Out of Country Voting

out of country voting
Eligible Libyan voters casting their out-of-country ballot (Credit: UNDP)

On 3 July 2012, five days before most voters would go to the polls for Libya’s first democratic elections in decades, Mr. Nuri Khazuri presented his identification and was handed a ballot. A historic moment, Nuri was the first of nearly 1.77 million Libyans to vote in the National Congress election of 7 July, voting in Dubai as part of an out of country voting operation devised by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) with support from UNDP and Libya’s High National Election Commission.

A total of 8,021 Libyan voters cast ballots outside Libya over the following several days in six countries with significant Libyan diaspora populations: Canada, Germany, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates (Dubai), the United Kingdom and the United States.

“All Libyans should have the opportunity to exercise their political rights. Particularly at this time, when Libya is transitioning to democratic rule. Out of country voting is an important part of that process.”

  • UNDP Libya Country Director, Mr. Eric Overest

The election was the first time in Libya’s history that women were able to exercise their right to vote, so the participation of Libyan women both in country and abroad had special resonance. Over thirty per cent of out of county voters (2,475) were women, with participation ranging from over 48 per cent in Canada to less than 20 per cent in Germany.

The election of the 200-member Libyan National Congress was characterized by the very short timeframe available; the effort to include voters outside Libya was no exception. Detailed discussion between IOM and Libya’s High National Election Commission began shortly after the Commission was sworn in on 12 February and an agreement was signed on 8 May, less than two months before polling.

It was during the interim period between February and May that UNDP was able to step in, providing the support that would enable IOM to design the effort and begin recruitment of its core, Tripoli-based team.

“All Libyans should have the opportunity to exercise their political rights,” said UNDP Libya Country Director, Mr. Eric Overest. “Particularly at this time, when Libya is transitioning to democratic rule. Out of country voting is an important part of that process.”

UNDP’s principal vehicle for supporting elections in Libya is its Libya Electoral Assistance Project (LEAP), which supports national authorities in a coordinated fashion to prepare for and conduct well-administered, transparent and credible elections that represent the will of the Libyan people and meet international best practices. The project’s duration encompasses critical events and milestones in Libya’s journey through transition, including the initial election of the 200-member National Congress, the referendum on a permanent constitution and the general elections following adoption of the permanent constitution.

United Nations electoral assistance in Libya is undertaken by an integrated team that brings together experts from UNDP, the UN Support Mission in Libya, colleagues and the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) and other international organisations, including IOM.

Through the process of devising the process, a population of over 60,000 registered members of the diaspora were identified by IOM, principally concentrated in eleven countries, with the biggest community located in the United Kingdom. Due to time and capacity constraints, organizers decided that voters in neighbouring countries Egypt and Tunisia should return to Libya in order to vote.

Registration and polling were conducted concurrently over a period of five days, concluding on the in-country Election Day, 7 July.  This ensured that eligible voters did not have to travel twice to participate in the process, once to register and a second time to vote.

As part of the effort, approximately 350 registration and polling staff was trained, the majority of whom were Libyan expatriates, to conduct the registration and polling process.

Social media, including Facebook and Twitter, were identified early in the operation as the key vehicles for contacting Libyans abroad.  Libyans had organized themselves into Facebook groups throughout the revolutionary struggle, and to a large extent IOM staff were able to successfully tap into these established networks.  Facebook statistics reflect that information relating to the process appeared on 8,435 user posts, in addition to 1,712 related posts on similar pages.

A lesson from the out of country voting effort laid in the ability of some Libyans to travel to the nearest voter registration and polling centre in order to register and vote. The OCV Country Team in the United Kingdom, for instance, estimated that approximately half of eligible voters live outside of London, namely in the northwest city of Manchester.

In the United States, approximately half of the Libyan population in the United States lives west of the Rocky Mountains. Following the conclusion of the operation, IOM proposed that future out of country voting efforts consider measures to more closely align registration and voting centres to population clusters, such as multiple centres or locating centres in cities with the largest estimated populations of Libyans.

The experience was a valuable one: in addition to providing the opportunity for Libyans abroad to vote in the country’s 2012 National Congress, future out of country voting efforts can build on the experience in order to ensure greater opportunity for Libyans living abroad to vote, contributing to the overall inclusivity of upcoming processes.

Additional information on UNDP’s Libya Electoral Assistance Project can be found here.

2012 Libya elections