GABRIEL ATUMEYI, writes on the desirability of e-voting ahead of 2019
In a season of reforms, the craving for improvements in the electioneering process is inevitable. At the core of major reforms in the last general election was the introduction of technological innovations, like the Smart Card Reader (SMR) and the use of Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs).
But the optimism that electronic voting, popularly called e-voting, would be introduced was dashed, especially for Nigerians in the diaspora, who felt they deserve to have a stake in election of leaders since they contribute so much to the economy of country.
Besides, the logistically challenges involved in using e-voting, the major hinderance was the lack of constitutional framework for its adoption. Also, a section of electoral stakeholders felt it might be an overkill to introduce a major component like e-voting in a very contentious election at the time.
However two years after the issue is about to be revisited. The Senate has taken a first big step so far with the passage of the electoral reform amendment bill.
Section 52 (2) of the amendment passed by the senate reads: “The commission shall adopt electronic voting in all elections or any other method of voting as may be determined by the commission from time to time.”
It explained that “the amendment mandates e-voting without ambiguity but also gives the commission discretion to use other methods if it is impracticable to use e-voting in any election.”
By this action it will seem that the polity is ready for the adoption of e-voting. This is in spite of the cost implication. It is reported that INEC spent about N166.8 billion for 2015 general elections, with the present trend, e-voting is speculated to gulp even more.
e-voting in other climes
Electronic voting also known as e-voting or EVM refers to voting using electronic means to either aid or take care of the chores of casting and counting votes. Depending on the particular implementation, e-voting may use standalone electronic machines (also called EVM) or computers connected to the internet. It encompasses a range of Internet services, from basic data transmission to full-function online voting through common connectable household devices.
Similarly, the degree of automation may vary from simple chores to a complete solution that includes voter registration & authentication, vote input, local or precinct tallying, vote data encryption and transmission to servers, vote consolidation and tabulation, and election administration. A worthy e-voting system must perform most of these tasks while complying with a set of standards established by regulatory bodies, and must also be capable to deal successfully with strong requirements associated with security, accuracy, integrity, swiftness, privacy, auditability, accessibility, cost-effectiveness, scalability and ecological sustainability.
Electronic voting technology can include punched cards, optical scan voting systems and specialized voting kiosks (including self-contained direct-recording electronic voting systems, or DRE). It can also involve transmission of ballots and votes via telephones, private computer networks, or the Internet.
In general, two main types of e-Voting can be identified :the e-voting which is physically supervised by representatives of governmental or independent electoral authorities (e.g. electronic voting machines located at polling stations and remote e-voting via the internet (also called i-voting) where the voter votes at home or without going to a polling station.
Much insecurity have been found in commercial voting machines, such as using a default administration password.
Cases have also been reported of machines making unpredictable, inconsistent errors. Key issues with electronic voting are therefore the openness of a system to public examination from outside experts, the creation of an authenticatable paper record of votes cast and a chain of custody for records.
Electronic voting technology can speed the counting of ballots, reduce the cost of paying staff to count votes manually and can provide improved accessibility for disabled voters. However, there has been contention, especially in the United States, that electronic voting, especially DRE voting, could facilitate electoral fraud and may not be fully auditable. In addition, electronic voting has been criticized as unnecessary and expensive to introduce. While countries like India continue to use electronic voting, several countries have cancelled e-voting systems or decided against a large-scale rollout, notably the Netherlands, Germany and the United Kingdom due to issues in reliability of EVMs.
The technology was ushered into our Electoral system by the immediate past INEC chairman, professor Attahiru jega who deployed electronic data capturing machine, PVCs and card readers.
The 2015 election which was semi electronized witnessed notable evidences of technical difficulties and abnormalities. Despite this flaw the country’s election administrators and civic body seems determined to walk the path of electoral digitization.
In Nigeria the issue of electronization of the nation’s electioneering process has been a subject of controversy and contention. Especially if one is looking at it from a cost – effective and distance effective perspective.
That is not just what we can buy, but also how effectively it can be employed at the rural fringes of the National society. The 2015 scenario itself has continued to cause misgiving about the technical ability of the INEC to see through such new innovation. Some have raised questions about power and software configuration.
Most technocrats and intellectual elites have expressed the desirability and necessity of such an electronic voting machine in a country like Nigeria with the financial means and technical ambition. While other have expressed reservation that such a system could be manipulated by conniving officials at strategic procedural and technical power points in the electoral establishment. The allegations usually revolve around the critical piece of software being used to collect and administer votes.
References have been made to instance where the electoral outcomes were be bought or manipulated at the federal or state capital with the complicity of willing officials with simple change of figures during the heydays of the PDP administration.
Because of the aforementioned fear it would be better for Nigeria to adopt both e-voting that is physical supervised and simultaneous transmitted via the internet in order to solidify the eventual outcome.
No election in Nigerian history apart from the Famous June 12, 1993 election has been able to associate with electoral regularity and sincerity and has led to politicians thronging the tribunals in search of the so- called stolen mandates. The fourth republic has been notorious for this phenomenon of stolen or recovered mandates. The system heretofore which is the open secret ballot system has encouraged all manners of irregularities such as voters intimidation, sentimental voting, vote buying, ballot stuffing, ballot snatching e.t.c.
However, the INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, plans to push the frontiers in the use of technology in elections.
He averred that although most election processes in the country were electronic, it was important to adopt full electronic voting in view of its numerous advantages over manual voting. He added that care would be taken in adopting full electronic voting as it had its attendant challenges.
According to him, the commission will be careful in adopting it because Nigeria is still grappling with the proper use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT).
“If you look at the trajectory from the last 10 years, the voters register came in an electronic form. Initially it was just a register, then, photographs were added.
“So it is inevitable that one day we will go into electronic voting.
“Experiences of other nations have however shown that we have to tread cautiously; it is technology; so if it is untried and untested, we will get bogged down.
“It is desirable, it is inevitable but we need to see through the implications,’’ he said.
The e-voting reform is coming at a time when the various forces in the political system are bracing themselves for the 2019 elections.
As far as e-voting go, Nigeria continues to lag behind from an international perspective. The full adoption of digitization in the electoral arena would mean that the old electoral criminalities will be reduced significantly if not totally eliminated.
It will even enhance the flexibility of the electoral process facilitating easily changes in location or enabling prospective voters to vote from any part of the country and even from abroad using their phones or the internet.
Given the advancement of ICT industry in the country such innovation shouldn’t be a big deal as there are host of companies that would be willing to key in with the best technology in the sector.
ICT stakeholders like Chairman of Zinox Technologies, Leo-Stan Ekeh, former President of Institute of software practitioners of Nigeria, have advocated for e-voting system as a way to bring transparency in Nigeria’s general elections.
Although they also admitted that technology has its own adverse effects, they contended that it will help in reducing litigations and as well strengthens the faith of Nigerians in the electoral process.
In May 2016, Ekeh had declared that the time is ripe for Nigeria to deepen its democratic culture through the full deployment of electronic voting during elections. He had made the call while appearing as the keynote speakers at a retreat organized by the House of Representatives Committee on Electoral and Political Parties Matter at the Transcorp Hilton, Abuja.
In a paper titled – New thoughts, ideas and innovations on use of ICT in elections – Ekeh affirmed that the gains recorded with the use of the card readers in the 2015 general elections goes a long way to show that with the adoption of e-voting, the country will take a huge step towards sound democratic governance.
“The country is ripe for transition to electronic voting. In your life, there must be a little bit of disruption for you to move forward. With the use of the card readers in the last general elections, we saw a significant reduction in electoral fraud. However, a few challenges still existed as no technology can be said to be 100% perfect”.
Other advocates contend that e-voting is not rocket science. People will get used to it. All they need is proper education on its usage. When the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) was introduced into the country, there was initial scepticism, but today, most Nigerians have known how to operate GSM. The advantages of e-voting far outweigh its disadvantages.
Although the Senate has given its nod to e-voting, it’s still a long way off to having it become a law as there will have to be harmonise its position with that of the House of Representatives before forwarding to executive for signing.
In a season of reforms, the prospects of e-voting get a constitutional backing ahead of 2019 seems bright.