Imagine sitting in the comfort of your home and with just your mobile phone or laptop as well as internet access, you can cast your vote during elections for any candidate of your choice. Imagine less crowded polling units on Election Day due to the alternative of electronic voting. Imagine being able to exercise your franchise in any part of the world during elections. This indeed will be novel, cut down tremendously on the habitual voting day violence as well as what we should be aiming for in future elections.
Around the world, electronic voting by country varies and may include voting machines in polling places, centralised tallying of paper ballots and internet voting. While many countries use centralized tallying, some also use electronic voting machines in polling places and very few use internet voting. Countries that have adopted internet voting and polling place electronic voting includes Australia, Brazil, the UK, and Germany among others. We all know how advanced their democratic processes have become as a result the utilisation of this process of voting.
In Nigeria, we are still grappling with the rudimentary systems of voting and our electioneering processes has most often been marred by ballot-box snatching, thuggery, intimidation and all manner of election-related violence. According to Winston Churchill, “to improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” In order to perfect our electioneering process, we need to change often and the proposed introduction of electronic transmission of election result is one of such changes we need as we seek to perfect the process.
The collation process during elections is very important to the integrity of the overall success and credibility of elections. If conducted in a transparent and well-regulated manner, it will produce credible election results. For a long time in our elections, collation of results has been the Achilles’ heel and a much-exploited weakness. In times gone by, the “analog” process has been marred by irregularities such as intimidation of collation officers and security agents as well as misconduct by officers of the Independent National Election Commission (INEC).
The conduct and outcome of the elections in Ondo and Edo states showed how efficacious electronic transmission of election result is going to be if adopted in future elections. During the elections, there was real-time transmission of poll result from polling booths which made contestants do their own tally, thereby making it very difficult, if not impossible, to tamper with outcomes at the collation centers. Thus, electronic transmission would relegate the usual norm of ballot-box snatching by political thugs to a thing of the past.
Ballot-box snatching in our election process has been a perennial headache that has comprised the outcome of several elections. Unscrupulous politicians have always used this means at collation centers, to subvert the will of the people, time and again. They have used it to cheat their way to power on many occasions that has immensely contributed to bad governance. But I believe, if and when it becomes law, electronic transmission of results will go a long way towards reversing this ugly trend and tactic by such politicians.
With electronic transmission, there will not be any case of results missing on the way or snatching of ballot boxes. There will not be any need for collation centers. It would eliminate human error in the collating process such as cases of arithmetical error by collating officers. It would also save time because results of voting would be uploaded in real time, unlike what is obtainable in manual transmission where collation officers sometimes transit over very long distances to submit voting results at INEC collating centres.
The electoral umpire has since expressed readiness to adopt electronic voting, including the transmission of results by electronic means. The commission has also urged the National Assembly to amend the Electoral Act to make provision for electronic collation and transmission of election results. The fresh amendments to the Electoral Act originally made provisions for electronic transmission of results. Curiously, however, Section 50(2), which seems to outlaw transmission of votes by electronic means in the draft legislation, has become the bone of contention.
Section 50(2), which was hitherto not part of the amendment bill, stated: “Voting at an election under this Bill shall be in accordance with the procedures determined by the commission, which may include electronic voting provided that the Commission shall not transmit results of the election by electronic means.” Many Nigerians have been expressing discontent over the development and there are indications that the National Assembly will reverse itself and reintroduce electronic transmission of results in the bill before it gets to the president for assent.
Like in many electoral systems around the world, we must adopt technology in our electoral process towards making it seamless and credible. COVID-19 has shown how digital and technological adoption can be beneficial. It has shown that technology has become imperative for government, corporations and individuals to rely on for accessing goods, services, information and education. Technology developed from science to make life and living easier. Why don’t we adopt and embrace it fully in our electoral system?
Since 1999, the introduction of technologies such as Electronic Voters Register (EVR), Automatic Fingerprints Identification System (AFIS) and Smart Card Reader (SCR) has reduced the incidence of multiple registrations and multiple voting to the barest minimum. The development of an e-collation support platform has also drastically reduced incidence of result manipulation at collation centres. Hence, the incorporation of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in our electoral process has reduced excessive electoral fraud to the barest minimum and foster credible elections.
No doubt, electronic transmission of results would improve the credibility of our electoral process. Manual vote counting should be a thing of the past. It enhances transparency and accountability by eliminating logistical challenges associated with manual vote counting. This system, which has been widely used in the developed world, has the advantage of reducing to very minimal levels, challenges relating to accuracy, security and verifiability which are part of the conventional paper-based ballot system.
There are concerns that the capacity to effectively implement electronic transmission of results might not be available in the country at the moment. There are also concerns of the availability of an electronic or internet system that is free from interference or hijack. However, INEC has assured of its readiness for this crucial step in or electoral process. Some internet service providers have also assured of their readiness for the process. In addition to the electronic transmission of results, there should also be a paper format that would serve as backup in the electronic transmission arrangement. This will serve as a form of checks and balance systems that will be used to complement electronic transmission of results. Imagine an avant-garde process of voting in Nigeria with the potential to revolutionise the voting system.
It’s ripe for INEC to exercise due diligence in the process of taking the electoral process into the future.