2023: INEC’s push for e-voting amidst challenges

April 3, 2021
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Despite the need for the amendment of the electoral laws and other challenges, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) sticks to its quest for electronic voting and the digitalisation of election activities. Daily Trust reports

The Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, on September 28, 2020, said the commission has commenced processes that would lead to replacing the manual voting with automated voting or electronic voting system.

Yakubu said this in Abuja at the demonstration of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) by manufacturers who he said were invited from around the world to practically demonstrate how the machines work, preparatory to full migration.

He said that the event was another giant step in the commission’s continuous effort to deepen electoral integrity in Nigeria through the deployment of technology.

There have been calls for e-voting over the years but some concerns, including the fear of cybercrime and hi-wired politics among political players in the country, hampered the process.

“Over the years, the commission has been automating the critical pillars of the process. The biometric register of voters has been updated continuously. At the moment, the INEC register of voters is the largest database of citizens in Nigeria. In addition, the combination of biometric voters’ cards commonly known as the Permanent Voter’s Card (PVC) and the Smart Card Reader (SCR) have revolutionised the accreditation of voters during elections.

“More recently, the introduction of a number of portals has facilitated the seamless nomination of candidates for elective offices by political parties as well as the accreditation of observers and the media. Most significantly, the commission now uploads polling unit level results in real-time on Election Day to a portal for public view.

“These are significant innovations that have deepened the transparency and credibility of elections and the electoral process in Nigeria,” Yakubu said.

According to the INEC boss, the commission has 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.

“To this end, the commission developed the specifications of the functions required of the machine. 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,” he said.

Yakubu said that about 50 companies that indicated interest will demonstrate to the commission how their IT solutions meet its specifications.

He said that this is only a demonstration that will enable the commission to evaluate the available technology and where necessary fine-tune our specifications before proceeding to the next stage which will involve the participation of stakeholders.

Also, the commission in a 17-page “Policy on Conducting Elections in the Context of the COVID-19 Pandemic” released in Abuja and signed by the INEC Chairman, Prof. Yakubu, said it would introduce e-voting in off-season elections starting in 2021.

The policy covers health and legal issues, election planning and operations, election day and post-election activities, voter registration, political parties, election observation, electoral security and deployment of technology in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Continue to make available its electronic channels for voters to check their registration status. Pilot the use of Electronic Voting Machines at the earliest possible time (not Edo and Ondo), but work towards the full introduction of electronic voting in major elections starting from 2021,” the document stated.

The commission which then ruled out the deployment of the e-voting for the governorship elections in Edo and Ondo states, however, adopted electronic platforms for the submission of nomination forms by political parties for the two governorship elections.

Speaking on the development, National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee (IVEC), Festus Okoye, said in Abuja that as part of the preparations towards the anticipated launch of electronic voting in forthcoming elections, the commission has commenced the analysis of the various electronic voting machines showcased by over 50 companies.

He said that INEC was looking forward to the amendment of the legal framework that would enable e-voting and that it remained committed to introducing EVMs in the electoral process to replace the manual system that had put the commission under heavy logistics burden, including the printing of electoral papers and hiring of thousands of ad hoc staff, among others.

INEC Chairman had said during the 2021 budget defence before the House of Representatives Committee on Electoral Matters on November 4, 2020, that the commission would deploy the EVMs very soon, possibly beginning with the Anambra governorship poll scheduled to be held in November this year.

“It is difficult to give you an idea of cost or when the process would be concluded, but we are determined that we are going to deploy Electronic Voting Machines, electronic balloting machines very soon in our elections, possibly beginning with the Anambra governorship election in 2021,” Yakubu told the lawmakers.

But Okoye said, “The commission invited over 50 companies engaged in hard and software production to demonstrate the different brands and versions of their Electronic Voting Machines. The companies demonstrated the different Electronic Voting Machine solutions available.

“Some of the companies demonstrated the solutions virtually. The commission is analysing all the demonstrated systems for purposes of choosing the ones that are in tandem with our ecosystem, is rugged, simple to use and easily maintained.”

Okoye was, however, not available to comment on when the machines are to be purchased, the mode of agreement, some of the countries where the companies were coming from and the cost implication among others.

CSOs react

The Yiaga Africa’s Director of Programmes, Ms. Cynthia Mbamalu, told Daily Trust Saturday that INEC’s plan to introduce e-balloting from the November 2021 Anambra governorship election is dependent on the passage of the new Electoral Act into law legalising electronic voting.

According to her, while Nigerians wait on the National Assembly for a timely conclusion of the Electoral Act amendment process, INEC has noted that it has commenced procuring some machines needed for e-balloting in the election.

“The commencement of e-voting in Anambra will require a pre-deployment system and infrastructure-audit and a baseline assessment in Anambra State. This in-depth assessment will provide information on existing capacities within INEC, enabling infrastructure across the local government areas in Anambra State that INEC can leverage for the successful commencement of e-balloting.

“The assessment will consider and provide information on things like the level of voter education required in the state. The quality of voter education and stakeholder engagement in Anambra will play a vital role in the effective deployment of electronic voting in Anambra State,” she said.

On his part, The Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, commended the INEC’s plan to commence electronic balloting in elections in Nigeria starting from the November 2021 gubernatorial election in Anambra State as the pilot election for the innovation.

“CISLAC commends INEC’s efforts to transition Nigeria’s electoral system to a technology-based system which is capable of addressing a huge part of the electoral frauds which elections in Nigeria have been characterised by. Even though INEC also rightly noted that full deployment of the EVM, which will include e-transmission of results, would only be implemented when the electoral act is amended, the plan is in line with advocacies for deployment of measures that enhance credibility in our elections.

“However, CISLAC is wary of INEC’s preparedness to deploy e-balloting successfully in Anambra State by November 2021 largely due to concerns bothering around citizens’ education and ability to use the system,” Rafsanjani said.

He said that with barely months to the elections, the centre is worried about the level of citizens’ education on e-balloting considering that most polling units (PUs) are situated in rural areas where technology literacy levels are extremely low.

He also noted that the Smart Card Reader (SCR) technology which was introduced in the 2015 elections has not yet been perfected.

“Its use in subsequent elections have been marred by malfunctions and other factors such as poor power supply in most parts of the country. It is on this note that CISLAC reserves concerns about the preparedness of INEC to efficiently deploy e-balloting technology in the November 2021 Anambra election.

“The commission should do much to assure citizens of its preparedness to efficiently deploy e-balloting in Anambra as well as other future elections in Nigeria. The commission must also commence citizens’ education on e-balloting across the state to ensure efficient utilisation of the system by voters. In doing this, INEC would not only ensure citizens in Anambra State, but would be able to convince Nigerians generally about the commission’s preparedness towards a full deployment of the EVM system in Nigeria’s elections,” he said.

Also, the Executive Director, Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRICED), Dr. Ibrahim Zikirullahi, told Daily Trust that the introduction of electronic voting is commendable. According to him, there are several beneficial features of the e-balloting, which make it a compelling option.

“In the first place, results can be tabulated faster, and also the incidents of people voting multiple times will be taken care of. However, in an environment such as ours, with its limited infrastructure, INEC would have to create sufficient back-up plans in deploying this technology.

“The experience from the card readers tells us that a lot of work has to go into preparing to deploy the technology. Notwithstanding these challenges can be, no disputing the fact that introducing more technology to the electoral process is the way to go, especially considering the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Zikirullahi said.

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