It must be pointed out that the introduction of electronic voting machines will not instantly and on its own transform the electoral process in Nigeria. The credibility of an election and the credibility of an electoral process are functions of so many interrelated variables that impact on the electoral process.
So, the introduction of electronic voting machines and the success of the introduction will only impact on one variable of the chain that makes for credible elections. The implication is that Nigeria can achieve credible elections with paper ballot if we get all other variable right.
We can also have rogue elections with paper ballot when we decide to cut corners with the electoral process. Electronic voting machines are therefore handmaids in achieving credible elections where other variables are in place and working. We must be under no illusion whatsoever regarding the place of electronic voting machines in the electoral process or think that the moment it is introduced all the electoral problems of the country will be over. The reality is that the introduction of electronic voting machines can complicate the electoral challenges of the country.
The introduction of technology will not on its own place Nigeria on the league of countries that conform to regional and international standards in the conduct of elections. It is the control of technology to serve the common good that will transform the electoral landscape in Nigeria. There are fundamental challenges that must be addressed in the law and in the operations of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the electronic voting machines to work and become part of the success story of Nigeria.
Part of the challenge that must be addressed can also be located at the doorstep of the ruling elite in Nigeria and their attitude to the electoral process. I commend the Senate for their robust intervention in plugging some of the loopholes exploited and used by “electoral fraudsters” to compromise the integrity of the Smart Card Readers and the electoral process. I commend them for giving INEC the discretion to determine when and how to use electronic voting machines in the electoral system.
I commend the Senate for its foresight in establishing a National Register of Election Results where all results from the various polling units will be displayed. This will make the electoral process more transparent and demystify the manipulation of polling unit results that has become the order of the day.
However, the success of the National Register of Election Results is directly tied to the success and workings of the Smart Card Readers. It is my considered opinion that the Senate overelaborated the process of collation and transmission of results and in the process undermined the discretion given to the Commission to determine the type of electronic voting machine or technological device that will be suitable for our electoral process.
The detailed elaboration of the process of collation and transmission of results limits the ability of the commission to use its manuals and regulations to delineate the special features and mechanisms of the type of technology that may be suitable at each point in the electoral process. Furthermore, the amendments made to section 63 of the Electoral Act makes the process of transmitting results to the Collation Centre and the Central Data Base of the Commission too mechanical.
The section provides that: “Except electronic voting is adopted by the Commission and does not permit manual counting of votes, the Presiding Officer shall count the votes and announce the result at the polling unit and, instantly thereafter, transmit the votes and result of the election in the polling unit by secured mobile electronic communication to the: (a) collation centre at each level of collation of results to which the polling unit belongs in the constituency where the election is held; and (b) central database of the Commission kept at the National Headquarter of the Commission: PROVIDED that the Presiding Officer shall first record the votes and result in forms or electoral documents as shall be prescribed by the Commission for this purpose from time to time and such copies given to party agents.”
Subsection 6 of section 63 also provides that “A Presiding Officer who intentionally contravenes any provision of this section shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable, on conviction, to imprisonment for at least five years, without an option of fine.”
The word “instantly” as used in section 63 for the transmission of the results can create problems. “Instantly” as used means immediately, straight away or instantaneously. I believe it is fair enough to insist that the Presiding Officers shall transmit the said results on the close of polls and on their having filled all the necessary forms. Furthermore, we must not shift the burden of our electoral irresponsibility to Presiding Officers. We must realise that most of the Presiding Officers are young men and women doing their National Youth Service outside their “comfort zones”.
Some of them offer their services as Presiding Officers out of patriotic zeal. Some of them have faced unimaginable difficulties in serving as Presiding Officers in trying to maintain their neutrality in the electoral process. Some youth corps members have lost their lives in the process of serving the nation. While it is true that some greedy ones abused their oath of office, we cannot discountenance the fact that it is members of the political elite that move to compromise them and put some of them in harm’s way.
It is therefore wrong to impose a prison term of five years without an option of fine on Presiding Officers that err or are forced to compromise their oath of office. We must not drive our electoral process towards a void where no parent will allow his or her ward to serve the nation as a Presiding Officer or where Presiding Officers will on their own decline to serve the nation.
The alternative to youth corps members will be handing over the electoral process to the same persons that are holding it hostage. It is also important for Nigeria to realise that the question of electronic voting is not a one-off race. Are we ready and prepared to use electronic voting machines in the 2019 elections?
I am not sure that we are ready for the said venture considering that it is capital intensive and must be factored into the budget to compete with other competing variables. Furthermore, we must identify manufacturers and suppliers, place order and procure the machines. The Electoral Management Body must also begin the training of technical and ad-hoc staff that will manage the equipment.
The electoral commission must also test run the equipment with small elections. Test running electronic voting with small elections will assist the country select the appropriate technology that suits our circumstances and our environment and allows us to determine our strengths and rectify weaknesses.
Rushing into electronic voting will compromise our electoral process and show it as opaque especially when it faces challenges that we do not have immediate answers to. So many countries are still experimenting on different aspects of electronic voting.
This is because there are issues and components of electronic voting and issues that must be taken on board to achieve success. Whenever an electoral management body (EMB) considers the use of technology to facilitate and improve the electoral process, it is advisable to follow several guiding principles that have been identified over the years and that can help to establish and maintain public confidence in the electoral process.
These guiding principles are: take a holistic view of the new technology, consider the impact of introducing new technologies, maintain transparency and ensure ethical behaviour while adopting new technology, consider the security issues related to the new technology, test the accuracy of results produced by the use of technology, ensure privacy, ensure inclusiveness, consider the technology costeffectiveness, evaluate efficiency, evaluate sustainability, evaluate the flexibility of the technology to adapt to new election regulations, consider the service provided to the users and their trust in the new technology.
The truth is that technology on its own will not change the electoral fortunes of the country without the collective agreement of the critical stakeholders to change the way things are done. We must break the cycle of impunity and punish those that have made electoral fraud a career