Politics

INEC’s new tech and elections’ sanctity

The introduction of technology in the conduct of elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Nigeria has engendered credibility and sanctity of the electoral process, writes ONYEKACHI EZE

 

 

 

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is no doubt, on technology revolution. Since the introduction of the smart card reader (SCR) machine for accreditation of voters, and permanent voter’s card (PVC) during the 2015 general elections, the commission has been trying to deepen the use of technology in the nation’s electoral process.

 

In 2019 general elections, INEC’s plan to transmit the result of the election electronically was aborted at the last minute when President Muhammadu Buhari refused to sign the amended Electoral Act. But this time, the Commission seemed to have found its rhythm.

 

It is introducing a number of technologies to strengthen the electoral process, deepen it and make it credible and transparent. Among these new technologies are the INEC result viewing (IReV) portal, Z-pad and electronic voting machines (EVM).

 

While the first two have been experimented in Nasarawa legislative bye-election as well as in the Edo and Ondo governorship elections, EVM is still at its demonstration stage.

 

INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, said the Commission had been working on the deployment of technology in voting during elections “to replace the current manual system which is tedious and requires enormous logistics to deliver huge quantities of printed materials and a large number of ad hoc staff to administer the process.”

 

Z-pad is used to upload election results from polling units to INEC Result Viewing portal. It was first used in the Nasarawa bye-election on August 8, the September 19 Edo and yesterday’s Ondo governorship elections. INEC had intended to use the Z-pad as a means of achieving full biometric accreditation using facial image of the voter in support of the fingerprint authentication by the smart card reader. Also, the camera on the tablet will be used to take a picture of the polling unit result (EC8A) and to upload same on the IReV.

 

This failed during the test run in the Nasarawa bye-election. Prof. Yakubu explained that “While the capture and upload of polling unit level result went on smoothly, the facial authentication (of voters) did not.” He said that was why it would be used only to upload election results in the Edo and Ondo governorship.

 

The Commission hopes to use Z-pad to accredit voters in the October 31 legislative byeelections to be held in 11 states across the country. Prof. Yakubu disclosed that INEC’s ICT department had worked on the device after the Nasarawa bye-election and had made a presentation to the Commission.

 

According to him: “The Commission decided that since this technology is work in progress, we should carry out a further test-run in some of the smaller constituencies during the bye-elections scheduled for 31st October 2020 and thereafter engage with stakeholders before it can be deployed in major elections.” The Nasarawa central has 44 polling units. The IReV portal was also introduced in the Nasarawa central bye-election.

 

INEC National Commissioner, Festus Okoye said this was necessitated by the abuse of Form EC60E, otherwise known as “citizen’s copy”, which is a poster version of the  primary result sheet, the Form EC8A. Okoye, who is also Chairman of the Information and Voter Education Committee, agreed that there had been concerns that results at collation center were sometimes not consistent with votes cast.

 

He assured that: “INEC is determined to address any source of this concern through enhancing the level of transparency in the conduct of elections, more so in the process of releasing results of elections. “It is a fundamental principle of democracy that in elections, votes are not only correctly counted, but that they also count.”

 

But the Commissioner regretted that the People’s Form EC8, which had increased transparency in result management, had resulted in the circulation of fake results. “The form enables the citizens to photograph the results and project the outcome of elections, even before the final results are announced.

 

“Unfortunately, this has also led to abuses, as unofficial and at times false results are known to have been circulated, particularly via social media, leading to tension and casting aspersions on the final outcome of elections,’’ he said.

 

The use of Z-pad and IReV portal was a huge success in the Edo election. Nigerians, including the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), commended the transparency of the result transmission.

 

PDP said: “Edo election was conducted in a manner that was adjudged to be free, fair, transparent and credible,” and added that this was made possible by the use of virtual portal to upload results directly from the polling unit, “which made it difficult for electoral violators to hijack the electoral process.

 

“It is our hope in the PDP that this new found image of INEC will gather more thresholds in future elections, particularly the October 10, 2020 Ondo governorship election.”

 

The party stated that Edo election has indeed shown that credible elections are possible in Nigeria if the people play by the rules. The PDP Governors’ Forum also singled “out INEC, the electoral umpire for special commendation as it didn’t allow itself as an institution to be manipulated into subverting the clearly expressed will and wishes of the people of Edo State….”

 

The Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, said the election was a marked improvement on previous governorship elections. The co-convener of Centre for Liberty, Mr Ariyo-Dare Atoye, said INEC has demonstrated its willingness to embrace technology with the Z-pad initiative.

 

Atoye added that “With the introduction of the results viewing portal and the z-pad, electoral fraud, if not eradicated, will be reduced.” Even INEC admitted that it had set a standard in the Edo governorship. Prof. Yakubu at the wind down of INEC situation room, challenged the Commission’s staff to prove that the success in Edo was not fluke but “the standard in the conduct of elections.”

 

INEC said it envisaged high traffic of persons interested in viewing the results and had decided to expand the result viewing portal to accommodate about two million viewers at the same time without clogging.

 

The Commission had provided code www.inecelectionresults.com for interested members of the public to registration and creation of an account to view results in the portal. But the Commission explained that the IReV portal is not electronic collation of results.

 

According to Okoye, results collation is still manual, the IReV portal is only an innovation  aimed at improving “transparency in election result management and further consolidate public confidence in the electoral process.” The success of Z-pad in the Edo governorship has attracted heavy traffic to the INEC portal.

 

Few days to yesterday’s Ondo election, the Commission disclosed that about 58,229 viewers have registered on the portal. INEC is also planning to introduce electronic voting in the conduct of elections. On September 28, it invited 40 companies to demonstrate before the management, the workability of their electronic voting machines. Prof. Yakubu at the occasion, explained that the EVM is part of measures to deepen electoral integrity in Nigeria through the deployment of technology.

 

“After extensive discussion and review, the commission took the decision to invite original manufacturers of electronic voting machines (EVMs) around the world for a virtual or practical demonstration of the machines. “Over 40 companies that indicated interest will demonstrate to the commission how their IT solutions meet our specifications,” he said.

 

Eight companies had demonstrated before the Commission physically and virtually for one hour (30 minutes demonstration and 30 minutes questions). INEC said it has developed specifications of the functions required of the electronic voting machine.

 

The demonstration is only to enable INEC to evaluate the available technology and fine-tune the specifications where necessary before involving the stakeholders. Electronic voting in one system Nigerians have been waiting for. This is because it will not only enhance the credibility of the electoral process, it will solve the problem of voter apathy.

 

Since 1999, voter turnout during elections had been in downward swing. The lowest was in 2019 where only 33 per cent of registered voters participated. In 2015, the figure was 44 per cent. It was 54 per cent in 2011, 57 per cent in 2007 and 69 per cent in 2003. The reasons are not far-fetched: the militarisation of the electoral process. Most people stayed away from election for fear of attack by political thugs.

 

The other reason is the distance to polling unit. The nomovement order on election day made it difficult for voters whose voting point is not within their vicinity, to participate. But all these will be overcome by electronic voting. The confidence that the vote will count will also be a motivating factor.

 

The number of votes recorded in the last two editions of “Big Brother Nija (BBN)” is a testimony that Nigerians are eager to vote if electronic voting is adopted, and they are sure their votes will count. But whatever effort INEC is making to deepen the electoral process will come to naught, if it lacks legal backing.

 

There is therefore the need to amend the Electoral Act to enable the commission to use electronic voting and electronic transmission of election results. This will help strength the electoral process and make it credible and transparent.

 

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