All three also have a multiplicity of languages and cultures. For example, the relatively small population of the Solomon Islands 500,000 people, is spread across an archipelago of 900 islands and Papua New Guinea’s population of some 6 million people speak over 400 languages and 800 dialects. Compounding this, large segments of Melanesia are highly mobile. Although everyone has a home village, they may move many times between electoral events. common problem occurs when an elector registers at their place of residence and then again for their home village. Attempting to manage and administer addressed based voter registration is this environment is very challenging.
Over the last two decades the Melanesian EMBs have faced the challenge of multiple registrations, leading to multiple voting, difficulties in removing deceased voters, difficulties in ensuring only eligible electors get to register and increasingly organized attempts at corrupting the electoral process. These problems in registration have lead to elections that are increasingly difficult to administer.
Since its inception in 1997 the PIANZEA Network has been keen to improve the administration of elections in the Pacific region. Over the past three years the Network has been steadily rolling out the BRIDGE program on a regional basis and on a national basis. The conduct of the BRIDGE voter registration module was the first attempt at conducting a BRIDGE course on a sub-regional basis. Since all three countries have very similar challenges when it comes to voter registration it was felt everyone would benefit greatly from coming together to share experiences, possible solutions and to learn more about this large, challenging and important part of our work. The workshop was conducted in the beautiful port town of Port Vila Vanuatu from 20 – 22 February inclusive.
There were 16 participants representing the operational and senior management levels of the three EMBs. The module was facilitated by the AEC’s Ross Attrill and Alistair Legge. It was funded through AusAID’s Pacific Governance Support Project which has generously been supporting the conduct of PIANZEA BRIDGE activities. Comments from participants included: “I learnt a lot from the case studies from each group”. It gives me ideas for improvement in the Solomon Islands system”.”I learnt the importance of having a credible list of voters to reduce disputes”. “I learnt other suitable ideas that could be adapted to improve Vanuatue’s voter registration system”. “The conduct of the BRIDGE Voter Registration Module in Vanuatu has been an important development in the expansion of the knowledge base and development of local capacity in the Melanesian region of the Pacific”. “If Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu are going to be able to overcome the challenges they face in administering elections, then those skills, ideas and answers will have to come from within.