Whereas the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has stated that electronic voting will not be used for the conduct of the 2019 general elections, KAUTHAR ANUMBA-KHALEEL in this report examines the issues surrounding feasibility of e-voting as deployed during the recently held Local Government polls in Kaduna State.
Elections in Nigeria particularly since its return to democracy in 1999, have been characterized by fraud and conflict ranging from rigging, snatching and stuffing of ballot boxes, thuggery and violence amongst others and have undermined the gains of genuine democracy as well as good governance as opposed to nurturing and promoting democratic aspirations of the country’s citizens thus leading to voter apathy and lack of confidence in the process. In the light of this, there have been clamour for the reform of the country’s electoral system to bring about credible elections.
One of such calls is for the introduction of electronic voting system which according to proponents will minimize the many ills that have marred the country’s electoral system has been known for. As part of efforts to reform the electoral system and modernise the process, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has made several attempts at shifting from an outdated paper-dependent voting system to the adoption of the Electronic Voting System.
Prior to the 2015 general elections reports had it that E-voting will be used in the during election but then immediate past INEC Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, who lauded the system, however ruled this out as it neither had legal backing or resources to deploy it. “There is a provision in the INEC Act that prohibits the commission from conducting elections using electronic system; Unless the electoral act is amended to accommodate electronic voting, there is no way we can use it.
He continued: “Even if that provision is changed, we will still have to look and see whether or not it is feasible. So, to be honest, it is unlikely that we will use electronic voting in 2015.”
The electoral body under Jega’s leadership, however, took a step in that direction by adopting the use of card reader an innovation that was initiated by the Justice Mohammed Lawal Uwais-led Electoral Reform Commission after it reviewed the register of voters and found it was with inadequacies necessitating a new voter registration. The commission opted for an electronically generated register which comprised an essential biometric data capture using the Direct Data Capture Machines (DDCMs). The card reader, a portable electronic voter authentication device configured to read only Permanent Voter Cards was specifically designed for accreditation process; authentication of eligible voters before voting can take place on election days is a component of e-voting.
But for the most part it, electronic voting includes: punch cards, optical scanned voting systems, specialized cubicles comprising self-contained direct recording electronic voting systems as opposed to other systems like the electoral college, balloting (open secret ballot, secret ballot) which were vehicles used for electoral fraud. Globally, very few countries conduct elections using electronic voting with a few allowing for internet ballot in general elections. In 2014, Namibia became the first African country to conduct election using this system.
Since the introduction of the card reader, the clamour for the introduction of e-voting system in the country’s electoral process has heightened thus saddling the National Assembly with the responsibility of giving INEC the legal backing with which to deploy E-voting if in its wisdom, it is convinced the system will be a panacea to the problems bedevilling the nation’s electoral process.
In view of the above, electronic voting formed part of the proposal to amend the 2010 electoral act during the constitution amendment by the 8th National Assembly and was consequently adopted by it in 2017. With the adoption, it gives the electoral body unfettered powers to conduct elections through electronic voting. This also means that there shall be full biometric accreditation of voters with smart card readers and/or other technological devices; accreditation data and results must be instantly transmitted from polling units to collation centres; INEC must keep Electronic registers of voters and must publish voters’ registers on its official website for public scrutiny at least 30 days before general election; INEC must now keep a national electronic register of election results as a distinct database or repository of polling unit by polling unit results for all elections conducted by it and collation of election results will mainly be electronic as transmitted unit results will help determine final results on real time basis amongst other things.
Shortly after the amendment, the commission inaugurated an inter-agency technical committee to assess a newly-developed e-voting system developed by the National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure (NASENI). With this development, proponents have edged INEC on the use e-voting in the coming general election even as those opposed to it question the country’s preparedness to adopt the system. They maintain that it is ill prepared to use the system in the 2019 elections given the numerous challenges encountered with a component of the system, the card reader in the 2015 general elections.
It would be recalled that during the last general elections, some Nigerian voters were reportedly disenfranchised due to the inability of the card reader to recognize their finger prints amongst other issues. Against this backdrop, they continue to express worry over the introduction of the system and how it may affect voters.
Additionally, some have expressed reservation on the use of the system citing epileptic power supply in the country, internet connectivity, credibility as well as the security of INEC’s database from hackers. But their fears were allayed when the chairman of the electoral umpire, Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu, hinted in April that the commission would not be deploying the electronic voting in the 2019 election. Yakubu who stated this at the end of a three-day International Conference of Election Management Bodies (EMBs) in West and Southern African Countries in Abuja themed “Opportunities and Challenges in the use of Technology: Experiences from West and Southern African Countries”, however, said deployment of technology in the collation and transmission of election results will take the election beyond manipulation.
“The brainstorming was to look at the adoption of technology in all the areas of electoral process and how to provide secure platform for the transmission of election results without hindrance.
“Let me categorically say that the commission will not be deploying electronic voting in the 2019 general election. However, we will deploy technology in the collation and transmission of electronic results without prejudice to the manual processes.
“There will be manual processes but we will deploy technology and by doing so, we will collate, transmit and declare results more speedily and more accurately.
“Let me equally react to the type of technological innovation we are going to introduce in 2019; we have been piloting in several elections transmission of results now on this idea of electronic transmission of results including scanned copies of the EC8As; directly from the polling units”, Yakubu stated.
Regardless, the Kaduna State Government successfully made history in the nation’s electoral process by being the first sub-national entity to use electronic voting machine in the just concluded council elections held on Saturday, 12 May, 2018. A day before the election, the State Governor, Nasir el-Rufai took to his twitter handle to announce the use of electronic voting in the local government election in the state.
“Voters in Kaduna State are set to make history as the first electors in Nigeria to use electronic voting. Elections to elect chairmen and councillors for the 23 Local Government Councils in the state are scheduled for tomorrow, Saturday, May 17, 2018.”
Subsequently, Governor El-Rufai explained that the state opted for e-voting to promote transparency and electoral integrity and called for the adoption of electronic system in the conduct of elections across the country. He also added that the e-voting would prevent the nation from unnecessary spending among other challenges. “I think it can work at the national level; it has been successful and we believe it can be replicated across the country; we think that this is a very solid foundation for the development of our democracy because credible elections will determine the quality of leaders going forward.”
El-Rufai who is of the opinion that that INEC may not have ample time to implement the system in the 2019 general election which is about nine months away, revealed that his state government spent a considerable amount of time in planning to use the system which was proposed by the Kaduna State Electoral Commission (KADSIECOM).
He listed the gains of e-voting as cost effective, credible, time saving, elimination of electoral fraud and longevity of the machines which only requires software update for subsequent elections. “With e-voting we no longer require ballot paper, so we saved N1.7 billion in ballot papers alone. And, these machines can be used for three or four more elections because they can last for 10 years all we need is to upgrade the software to add more parties and so on.
“So, we believe that overall, it is good value for money and it has worked very well; what we are very happy about is that ordinary people could use it, the interface was friendly, simple and you can finish voting for chairman and councillor in less than 15 seconds; I think it gave people the confidence that their votes mattered and for many people that didn’t even want to go out to vote in the elections, curiosity of what the electronic voting machines is brought them out”, el-Rufai stated.
Although the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Kaduna State chapter initially vowed to resist the process, voters across the state hailed the use of the e-voting system in the elections saying it was a fast and easy process adding that results were printed out to show the electorate that there were no records of votes before the exercise.
With this feat, some Nigerians continue to advocate for the deployment of the system in 2019 elections to ensure success of the process but like Prof Yakubu pointed out, there are modalities that must be put in place for the commission to conduct elections using the innovation. There is yet to be a law authorizing INEC to conduct elections using e-voting and even if a law is put in place, the commission will require huge resources to conduct election using the system and there is no provision for that in the 2018 budget that was just passed by the National Assembly on Thursday due to the delay in the passage of the Electoral Amendment Act, 2010. Also, even if the law is passed and funds are appropriated, the commission will require more money to be able to use the system as the N300 million reportedly budgeted for the 2019 general election is for paper ballot plus, it has insufficient time to set in motion plans to use the system with the elections less than ten months away.
Also, there is need for sensitization of the voting public before the system can be used. This was corroborated by Governor El-Rufai who said, “The independent electoral commission of Kaduna brought in 300 of the machines and spent some months going around the state, market places, and people’s homes to test the machines and show them how it works and that ordinary people can use it.
“Having said that, we have been working on this for about a year before we got to where we are; it is possible for INEC to do it; nothing stops them from trying if the resources are available.
“At the federal level, I will recommend it as well because with the card reader and the e-voting machine, the era of rigging elections will be over and I think that will be when people will have confidence in the process and will come out enmass to elect their leaders”.
The use of e-voting in Kaduna can be said to be successful and a pointer to the fact that the system can also be successfully deployed at the national level, even as it prompts other states to take up the challenge of replicating the process and give their voters improved and more credible electioneering process so long as they have the legal framework in place.
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