On November 4, 2020, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) — Nigeria’s electoral body — announced that another round of voter registration will begin in the first quarter of 2021 and end six months before the general elections in 2023. Before this announcement, plans for switching to electronic voting had been revealed in September.
The need to control the spread of the coronavirus by limiting physical gatherings necessitated the announcement to ensure scheduled election timetables are not disrupted, as is the case with the elections in Edo and Ondo states.
Specifically, the e-voting process is to kickstart electronic balloting — the use of machines to cast votes at polling centres. For now, the Commission has the legal backing to only carry out e-balloting in some states.
Despite consistent calls from the National Assembly, the Nigerian Constitution hasn’t been amended to allow electronic transmission of election results.
It won’t be right to say e-voting is new to the electorate because some elements of the process are visible in the electoral system: biometric registration and accreditation, smart card readers for verification, a result viewing portal, electronic voting machines (EVMs), and real-time online transmission of voting results directly from voting machines.
However, they have only been used on a small scale — local government and gubernatorial elections — and expecting large-scale implementation seems like wishful thinking.
As documented by Techpoint Africa, it is safe to say that human manipulation is often involved in the process of ensuring the e-voting systems run smoothly. The first e-voting exercise carried out in the Kaduna State local government election in 2018 is a good case in point; it proved that e-voting could not be adopted for the 2019 general elections.
Two years on, the number of registered eligible voters keep increasing but the problems are yet to be resolved.
Basic concerns about e-voting yet to be addressed
Since no electoral process is perfect, advanced technologies are only introduced to keep malpractice to a bare minimum.
Apart from guaranteeing confidentiality, an effective e-voting system ensures that only eligible voters are allowed to vote and the votes cast reflect their choices.
Considering the existing infrastructure and the digital divide between citizens, the Commission faces an accessibility problem it might not be able to solve just yet. But this is only one of many concerns.
One could be forgiven for expecting the adoption of technology in the voting process to be accepted by all and sundry; however, this is not the case. Surprisingly, the president is yet to approve the Electoral Reform Bill that the Senate has been deliberating on for more than a year; the Bill will stop the prohibition of EVMs and similar technologies.
When amended, Section 52(2) of the 2010 Electoral Act will allow the Commission to adopt electronic voting or any other method of voting in any election it conducts as it may deem fit.
The president refused because he believed that being close to the general elections, there wouldn’t have been enough time to get legislative backing to supervise the process, and voters might have been confused.
While it is true that extensive electoral education is usually needed for large-scale adoption of such technology, it is surprising that close to the end of 2020, the Bill has not been revisited for approval in preparation for the 2023 general elections.
With the nation’s executive and legislative arms clearly indifferent about the adoption of e-voting, how easy would it be for the public to accept the disruption that could come with it when eventually permitted?
Considering the current disapproval of new technology in the Nigerian electoral process, mobile or online voting might not be realisable any time soon.
Although the INEC boss recently expressed concern about the inability of Nigerians in diaspora to carry out their civil responsibility, there doesn’t appear to be any plans to make that happen soon.
Even if these innovations haven’t solved the problem of democracy in developed countries like the US and France, it should be given a chance in Nigeria.
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