2023: Is e-voting INEC’s game-changer?

FELIX NWANERI writes on plans by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to adopt the electronic voting system believed to be capable of building the confidence of voters in the electoral process if properly implemented

 

The quest by Nigerians for an improvement on the country’s electoral process could be feasible if the bid by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to adopt the electronic voting system in the 2023 general election gets the approval of the National Assembly in the current constitutional amendment.

INEC’s chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, who hinted on the plan recently at the opening of a two day retreat with the National Assembly Committees on Electoral Matters, said the 2019 elections may be the last manual polls in Nigeria.

The INEC boss, however, said this is an achievable feat, only with the support of the National Assembly, tasking the lawmakers to expedite action on the amendment of the Electoral Act. According to Yakubu, part of the proposed reform in the electoral system is to deepen the deployment of technology during elections in addition to the existing electronic voters register and accreditation.

His words: “The new amendments also sought to empower the commission to deepen the deployment of technology in the management of the voters’ register, voting and result collation processes. Already, the commission has an electronic register of voters. Similarly, voter accreditation has also gone electronic.

“It is time for a new legislation to remove all encumbrances to further deployment of technology in the electoral process, especially in the accreditation of voters and transmission of election results. Sections 49 and 67 of the draft bill deal with these twin issues. Working with the National Assembly, it is our hope that the 2019 general election will be the last manual election in Nigeria.”

Noting that the expeditious passage of the Electoral Act amendment is critical to the preparations for the next general election, Yakubu averred: “Where the passage of the bill is delayed, it will affect the formulation of regulations and guidelines as well as the review and publication of the manual necessary for the training of ad-hoc staff for elections because both documents draw from the legal framework.”

“There is need to expedite the process. This is more so because some of the far-reaching amendments proposed by the National Assembly would require the procurement of new equipment, training of election officials and piloting of new procedures ahead of the general election.

“Early and adequate preparation is critical. Late deployment disrupts preparations and in an electoral process governed by fixed timelines provided by law, postponement must be avoided because of its far-reaching consequences as we have witnessed a number of times in our recent history.”

Deputy Senate President and chairman of the Constitution Review Committee, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, who raised the hope of possible amendment to the Electoral Act to allow for electronic voting, said: “Without question, the 9th National Assembly is firmly committed to electoral reform. We recognise across party lines that it is in our nation’s best interest to work together to strengthen our electoral laws and, consequently, better protect this very important and consequential democracy on the African continent.”

Section 52 (1)(b) of the Electoral Act 2010 makes it an offence for INEC to use e-voting. Electronic voting also known as e-voting is a term encompassing several different types of voting. It embraces both electronic means of casting votes and counting them, which includes punched cards, optical scan voting systems and specialised voting kiosks (self-contained Direct-Recording Electronic voting systems – DRE) or transmission of ballots and votes via telephones, private computer networks, or the Internet.

Specifically, two main types of e-voting can be identified – e-voting which is physically supervised by representatives of governmental or independent electoral authorities (electronic voting machines located at polling stations) and remote e-voting where voting is performed within the voter’s sole influence and is not physically supervised (voting from one’s personal computer, mobile phone, television or the internet).

Findings by New Telegraph showed that the system has been in use since the 1960s when punched card systems debuted. Their first widespread use was in the United States (U.S.) where seven counties switched to it for the 1964 presidential election.

However, the new optical scan voting system allows a computer to count a voter’s mark on a ballot. The DRE voting machines, which collect and tabulate votes in a single machine is used by all voters in all elections in Brazil and India, and also on a large scale in Venezuela and the U.S. They have also been used on a large scale in the Netherlands, but have been decommissioned after public concerns.

The internet voting system on the other hand, has gained popularity and has been used for elections and referendums in the United Kingdom, Estonia and Switzerland as well as municipal elections in Canada and party primary elections in the U.S. and France.

However, while many believe that deploying biometrics to achieve accuracy will help curb electoral frauds such as multiple voting and ballot stuffing, which among others, have remained the bane of Nigeria’s electoral process, some stakeholders argue that e-voting would be hard to realise given the high level of illiteracy in the country as well as the deficiency of relevant infrastructural requirements to drive it.

Some political analysts even cited an example with the U.S, where it has been contended that electronic voting, especially DRE voting, facilitates electoral fraud.

Against this backdrop, they were unanimous that while e-voting has proved effective in other climes, it should only be support in Nigeria if there is an assurance that the system would not be manipulated by the country’s election managers.

But those in support of the system insists that it is high time Nigeria embraces it, owing to the several challenges of conducting elections in the country with a population of over 180 million people, out of which are about 84 million registered voters, spread across 120,000 polling centres.

This, they noted, is in an  addition to the towering number of political parties which makes difficult, the sourcing and procuring of balloting instruments, recruitment and training of personnel, transportation and movement of men and thousands of tones of election materials across varied and often tough terrains over a relatively short time.

The analysts were quick to refer to the introduction of the Direct Data Capturing Machines (DDC) in Nigeria’s voters’ registration exercise and concluded that they assisted a great deal in drastically reducing multiple registration, which is usually the starting point in election rigging.

No doubt, arguments for and against electronic voting cannot be ignored, however, there seems to be the conviction that the system will provide a more secured and reliable system that will ensure that the peoples’ votes count.

For those who hold this belief, there is the need for a solution to the existing manual system which is slow, tedious, bulky, unattractive and erroneous. They, therefore, advocated for the electronic voting system, which according to them, will not only moderate the level of human interaction with it, but diminish its disposition to malpractices and errors.

Former National Chairman of defunct United Progressive Party (UPP), now a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief Chekwas Okorie, who believes that electronic voting is the way to go, told New Telegraph in an interview that it will build the confidence of the electorate in the electoral process.

“There must be full electronic voting system in a manner that the ballot box would be eliminated in order to take care of thuggery and results transmitted electronically from the polling booths.”   

While the nation awaits the recommendation of the Constitution Review Committee on the voting system to be adopted for the 2023 elections, it is believed that the need to revolutionalise the country’s electoral process for its results to be less controvertible will guide the Omo-Agege panel in the course of its task.

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