Registration of voters: US vs Malawi

Registration of voters: US vs Malawi

As the day of reckoning draws nearer for the US elections, we now focus on the registration of voters with a comparison to the local process.

  • Eligibility to register: To be registered, potential voters must be US citizens, meet the state’s residency requirements and be 18 years old. However, some states allow those who are 16 years old to apply for registration but do not receive the voter’s card or vote until they are 18 years. In Malawi the Constitution requires that a registrant should be a citizen, if not then should have been ordinarily resident in Malawi for seven years; have attained age of 18 and is ordinarily resident in that constituency, or was born there or is employed or carries on a business there.
  • Obligation to register: In both countries registration and voting is a voluntary obligation of all the eligible citizens. It is not compulsory like in Australia where citizens can be fined for not showing up for voting. Because of this it is estimated that one quarter to third or close to 51 million US citizens are not registered despite being eligible — and thus are unable to cast ballots that will count. Malawi has no reliable data source but from the statistics of 2014, MEC registered 96 percent of the 8 million people who were expected to register.
  • Mode of registration: In the US a voter can register in person, by mail or online. In Malawi registration is in person. Even in the event that the registrant is ill or away, s/he has to make means to present her/himself at the centre to register. This is clearly stated in the electoral laws that registration shall be in person. Maybe at the time of framing the laws the technology existing today was not there and the framers might not have anticipated it.
  • Date of registration: The eligible voter should be 18 in both countries. In the US voter registration is a continuous exercise while in Malawi it is periodic, that is the Malawi Electoral Commission sets a time when it opens up registration centres for all citizens to register. If one misses that date they will not be able to register and consequently not vote. In the US a person registers any time she/turns 18 and various states have different deadlines to the polling days when they close registration to enable them prepare for polling. Typically, registration is required at least 30 days before the election, but other states even allow for registration on the polling day.
  • Maintenance of voter’s register: Since the US conducts continuous registration, a voter need not to register again when there are elections, a voter registers once in their life. However, in Malawi for the 2014 elections we had to conduct a new voter registration which meant that all those who registered for 2009 election had to re-register although they had safely kept their registration certificate. For 2019 elections, MEC intends to go biometric and all registered voters will have to be advised on how they will get new registration certificates.
  • Where to Register: In the US you register to vote with the state in which you currently reside. The rules and requirements of each state vary, so the first thing a voter needs to do is to check the state's particular laws on eligibility. In Malawi you can register where you ordinarily reside, you were born, you are employed or you carry out business.  A voter has to present himself physically and in Malawi where you register is where you vote unless you process a transfer during the voter verification period.

Next week we will expound more on the eligibility to register and the information provided on the voter’s register.

Registration of voters: US vs Malawi

As the day of reckoning draws nearer for the US elections, we now focus on the registration of voters with a comparison to the local process.

  • Eligibility to register: To be registered, potential voters must be US citizens, meet the state’s residency requirements and be 18 years old. However, some states allow those who are 16 years old to apply for registration but do not receive the voter’s card or vote until they are 18 years. In Malawi the Constitution requires that a registrant should be a citizen, if not then should have been ordinarily resident in Malawi for seven years; have attained age of 18 and is ordinarily resident in that constituency, or was born there or is employed or carries on a business there.
  • Obligation to register: In both countries registration and voting is a voluntary obligation of all the eligible citizens. It is not compulsory like in Australia where citizens can be fined for not showing up for voting. Because of this it is estimated that one quarter to third or close to 51 million US citizens are not registered despite being eligible — and thus are unable to cast ballots that will count. Malawi has no reliable data source but from the statistics of 2014, MEC registered 96 percent of the 8 million people who were expected to register.
  • Mode of registration: In the US a voter can register in person, by mail or online. In Malawi registration is in person. Even in the event that the registrant is ill or away, s/he has to make means to present her/himself at the centre to register. This is clearly stated in the electoral laws that registration shall be in person. Maybe at the time of framing the laws the technology existing today was not there and the framers might not have anticipated it.
  • Date of registration: The eligible voter should be 18 in both countries. In the US voter registration is a continuous exercise while in Malawi it is periodic, that is the Malawi Electoral Commission sets a time when it opens up registration centres for all citizens to register. If one misses that date they will not be able to register and consequently not vote. In the US a person registers any time she/turns 18 and various states have different deadlines to the polling days when they close registration to enable them prepare for polling. Typically, registration is required at least 30 days before the election, but other states even allow for registration on the polling day.
  • Maintenance of voter’s register: Since the US conducts continuous registration, a voter need not to register again when there are elections, a voter registers once in their life. However, in Malawi for the 2014 elections we had to conduct a new voter registration which meant that all those who registered for 2009 election had to re-register although they had safely kept their registration certificate. For 2019 elections, MEC intends to go biometric and all registered voters will have to be advised on how they will get new registration certificates.
  • Where to Register: In the US you register to vote with the state in which you currently reside. The rules and requirements of each state vary, so the first thing a voter needs to do is to check the state's particular laws on eligibility. In Malawi you can register where you ordinarily reside, you were born, you are employed or you carry out business.  A voter has to present himself physically and in Malawi where you register is where you vote unless you process a transfer during the voter verification period.

Next week we will expound more on the eligibility to register and the information provided on the voter’s register.