Bold steps on e-voting October 12, 2020 in Editorial, Editorial, News Update

Bold steps on e-voting October 12, 2020 in Editorial, Editorial, News Update

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) stretched its efforts towards further automating the electoral process last week by inviting original manufacturers of electronic voting machines to demonstrate their devices.

At that event, INEC Chairman Professor Mahmood Yakubu reaffirmed the electoral body’s commitment to deepening the use of technology in the system. He noted that over the years, the commission has been automating critical pillars of the conduct of elections like the voter register, which is fully biometric; the biometric voter card, used alongside digital smart card reader; introduction of electronic portals used for nomination of candidates for elective offices by political parties, besides accreditation of observers and the media for elections; and lately, introduction of a portal where polling unit results get uploaded in real-time on Election Day for public viewing.

The INEC boss said these measures had deepened the transparency and credibility of the electoral process, adding: “For some time now, the commission has been working on 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.”

This was the context in which the commission said it came up with specifications of electronic voting machines, and last week invited equipment manufacturers that signified interest from around the world to come demonstrate the functionalities of their devices. Mahmood said this was to enable the commission to evaluate available technology and finetune specifications, before proceeding to the next stage that would involve participation by stakeholders.

There is no question that Nigeria must move surefootedly, though methodically, towards introducing electronic voting in elections. The gains of measured use of technology already adopted are profound and have greatly strengthened the electoral process. For instance, perhaps more than any other factor, the INEC Results Viewing (IRev) portal that enabled the public to track results announced at the polling units contributed in no small measure to the broad consensus over the recent Edo governorship election and the calm that trailed it.

Against the backdrop of protocols necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the electoral commission had in a policy document last May, promised to use electronic voting in the 2023 general election, saying it would pilot electronic voting machines “at the earliest possible time…but work towards full introduction of electronic voting in major elections starting from 2023.” It was apparently in line with this promise that the organisation invited equipment manufacturers to showcase their devices.

In narrowing in on its choices, however, it is important for INEC to factor in fears of cyber insecurity that have haunted the digitisation of our electoral process. In other words, the commission should go the extra mile to ensure that its preferred equipment specifications guarantee insulation against tampering – not just by political actors, but also by its own personnel who may be compromised by politicians.

A more fundamental issue, as we have always argued, is the present legal framework which, unless rephrased, could make ongoing groundwork by INEC mere grandstanding. Even with the now amended Section 52 (2) of the Electoral Act 2010, which prescribes that voting at elections be conducted “in accordance with the procedure determined” by INEC, there are other provisions that may constrain the use of technology such as Sections 48 and 49 of same law that prescribe rigidly manual procedures of conducting the ballot on Election Day. It is such provisions that currently make Diaspora voting impossible. The National Assembly needs to expedite its ongoing amendment of the electoral law and when done, it is hoped the President will give speedy assent.

A final point to reiterate is that measures as outlined afore are by themselves insufficient to guarantee the high quality of elections we desire in this country unless the political class commits to playing strictly by the rules.

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The Nation

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