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E-voting: The clamour gains momentum

 

FELIX NWANERI writes on the renewed clamour for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to adopt electronic voting system, which many believe will boost the confidence of voters in the electoral process if properly implemented   

 

Nigeria conducts general elections every four years to determine those to take over the helm of affairs at the various levels of government. Unfortunately, the electorate have always displayed lack of enthusiasm in the process due to the fact that such polls are always marred by gross irregularities as well as lack credibility.

 

It is against this backdrop and other flaws that relevant political stakeholders, have over the years, clamoured for more adoption of modern techniques, especially the electronic voting system to improve the nation’s electoral process. Section 52 (1) (b) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended), outlaws electronic voting in Nigeria as it states: “The use of the electronic voting machine, for the time being, is prohibited.”

 

However, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) seemed to be disposed to adopting such voting method if the extant laws are put in place. INEC’s chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, had while speaking at the opening of a two-day retreat with the National Assembly Committees on Electoral Matters in March this year, said the 2019 elections might be the last manual polls in Nigeria.

 

The INEC boss, however, said this is an achievable feat, only with the support of the National Assembly, tasking the lawmakers to expedite action on the amendment of the Electoral Act.

 

According to Yakubu, part of the proposed reform in the electoral system is to deepen the deployment of technology during elections in addition to the existing electronic voters register and accreditation.

 

His words: “The new amendments also sought to empower the commission to deepen the deployment of technology in the management of the voters’ register, voting and result collation processes.

 

Already, the commission has an electronic register of voters. Similarly, voter accreditation has also gone electronic.

 

“It is time for a new legislation to remove all encumbrances to further deployment of technology in the electoral process, especially in the accreditation of voters and transmission of election results. Sections 49 and 67 of the draft bill deal with these twin issues. Working with the National Assembly, it is our hope that the 2019 general election will be the last manual election in Nigeria.”

 

Noting that the expeditious passage of the Electoral Act amendment is critical to the preparations for the next general election, Yakubu averred: “Where the passage of the bill is delayed, it will affect the formulation of regulations and guidelines as well as the review and publication of the manual necessary for the training of adhoc staff for elections because both documents draw from the legal framework.” “There is need to expedite the process.

 

This is more so because some of the far-reaching amendments proposed by the National Assembly would require the procurement of new equipment, training of election officials and piloting of new procedures ahead of the general election.

 

“Early and adequate preparation is critical. Late deployment disrupts preparations and in an electoral process governed by fixed timelines provided by law, postponement must be avoided because of its far-reaching consequences as we have witnessed a number of times in our recent history.”

 

Deputy Senate President and chairman of the Constitution Review Committee, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, who raised the hope of a possible amendment to the Electoral Act to allow for electronic voting, said: “Without question, the 9th National Assembly is firmly committed to electoral reform.

 

We recognise across party lines that it is in our nation’s best interest to work together to strengthen our electoral laws and, consequently, better protect this very important and consequential democracy on the African continent.”

 

Also in July, the INEC chairman in a policy document on the forthcoming governorship  elections in Edo and Ondo states said the electoral commission will “work towards the full introduction of electronic voting in major elections starting from 2021.”

 

While many misconstrued this to mean that 2021 is the takeoff date for e-voting in Nigeria, spokesman to INEC’s chairman, Mr. Rotimi Oyekanmi, later said in a statement that the electoral commission had no such plans.

 

His words: “What the policy says under ‘ICT and Voter Registration’ (Roman figure v – page 12) is that INEC will pilot the use of electronic voting 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 key words here are pilot, work and towards. As we all know, INEC cannot unilaterally introduce electronic voting because our constitution does not allow/recognise it.

 

That’s why we said we will work towards the full introduction of e-voting.”

 

How e-voting works

 

Electronic voting also known as e-voting is a term encompassing several different types of voting. It embraces    both electronic means of casting votes and counting them, which includes punched cards, optical scan voting systems and specialised voting kiosks (selfcontained Direct-Recording Electronic voting systems – DRE) or transmission of ballots and votes via telephones, private computer networks or the Internet.

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