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Nigerian Elections 2007: E-Voting As A Missing LinkAn article about the need to automate the Nigerian electoral process.
Quite expectedly, a deluge of petitions have trailed the legislative, gubernatorial and presidential elections of April 2007, an election that has enthroned present officials occupying various political positions in the country. In strict adherence to the Electoral Act of 2006 which provided for aggrieved candidates to submit petitions, challenging the outcome of elections conducted in the said period, numerous applicants thronged the electoral tribunals to register their protests. On the last count, a total 511 election petitions were registered with the electoral tribunals, and as at mid March, 2008 about 190 of the cases have been decided. This is coming eight months into the life of the present administration. If number is anything to count on, the sheer number of disputes the tribunals have to contend with is a clear testimony to the high number of electoral malpractices that took place in that much vilified election.
The disputed cases border primarily on wrongful exclusion of candidates, last minute replacement of candidates and the various cases of outright rigging like ballot box stuffing, multiple voting and other forms of manipulations. Umaru Musa Yar ‘Adua, Nigeria’s president, through his utterances, has not shied away from the fact that the April 2007 elections, through which he emerged as the president of the country, was less than transparent. In order to calm frayed nerves, and conscious of the need to ensure transparency in future elections, as well as guarantee reduced incidences of rigging, the president has established an electoral reforms committee.
What went wrong in the Nigerian elections?
Perhaps the biggest upset of the Nigerian elections was recorded on Friday February 22, 2008 when the State Election Petitions Tribunal sitting in Markurdi, Benue State nullified the election of the Senate President, Senator David Mark. His election was nullified on the grounds that: the number of voters registered manually by Nigeria’s Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) - the body charged with the conduct of elections in the country - was at variance with the number of voters captured in INEC’s Electronic Voter Register. This is in addition to the substantiated allegations of over – voting and wrongful allocation of votes discovered on the INEC registration forms, which were confirmed to have been altered.
Established cases of ballot snatching, massive thumb printing for certain candidates, collusion of INEC officials with party agents to alter results in favour of some candidates and so on, litter the various electoral tribunals. Indeed, in certain amazing revelations, dead men of over four decades were alleged to have voted in the 2007 polls.
Who is afraid of e-voting?
A couple of years ago, while on a sensitisation campaign on the need to automate the Nigerian electoral process, then newly appointed chairman of INEC, Prof. Maurice Iwu had argued that elections in Nigeria cannot be devoid of rigging unless the country adopts technology in the conduct of its elections. He particularly propagated the electronic voting (e-voting) gospel, and hinted that the results of the then upcoming (2007) elections might not deviate from past experiences with mass electoral rigging. “Do we need a soothsayer to inform us on what to expect every time that we use the same method of compilation of voters’ register, hire party sponsored ad hoc staff, use the same ballot papers (with duplicate copies staked-up somewhere by party faithful) and organise the polls with poor physical infrastructure?” he queried in 2005 while intimating the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) on the workings of e-voting.
While presenting a blue-print of the proposed e-voting implementation in Nigeria to Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, the country’s immediate past president in October 2005, Prof. Iwu highlighted Florida in United States of America, Brazil, India, Ireland, Netherlands and Germany as countries which have achieved various levels of successes through the implementation of e-voting for local and national elections. He also mentioned that e-voting was in process of being implemented in the United Kingdom. His presentation pleased the former president who gave his consent that e-voting should be adopted and implemented for use in the 2007 general elections.
Having secured executive approval, Prof. Iwu faced the litmus test of convincing the legislature of the need to adopt e-voting for subsequent Nigerian elections. The National Assembly voted against the adoption of e-voting citing the immaturity of the Nigerian electorate as well as argued that the process is prone to manipulation. For this reason, Section 53 of the Nigerian Electoral Act reads: “Voting at an election under this Act shall be by open secret ballot; the use of Electronic voting Machine for the time being is prohibited.”
What e-Voting would have Achieved
For the purpose of the 2007 general elections, the Open Secret Ballot System was adopted. This system entails the prospective voter undergoing a process of accreditation, receiving a ballot paper from the appropriate poll official and thereafter making the confidential thumb print impression in favour of the political party of his choice in a secret voting compartment before dropping the ballot in the box positioned in the open, in the full glare of officials, security agents and party agents.
The ballot paper and the ballot box rank chief amongst the sensitive materials provided by the electoral commission for the conduct of elections. At the conclusion of the elections, the ballot box which contains the numerous ballot papers with the thumb print of the electorate is transported to the commission’s offices for collation of the votes which trickle in from various electoral centres. The sensitivity of the ballot box inadvertently makes it the primary target during elections. The adoption of e-voting for the 2007 election would have eliminated, or reduced to the barest minimum the malaise of snatching and indiscriminate thumb printing of ballot papers. It is scientifically agreed that no two thumb- prints are the same. The e-voting machine would automatically invalidate any individual who attempts to vote twice thereby rendering such votes void. Hence, electoral integrity would be upheld by ensuring that an individual is entitled to only one vote. Trying to verify votes manually could be an overwhelming exercise.
One of the vituperations against the 2007 general elections was the endless wait for electoral materials and the announcement of results in booths and wards where elections allegedly never took place. The voter verifiable paper audit trail of the electronic voting system would serve as evidence of an election that took place. If properly programmed, the electronic voting machines would provide information such as the period of commencement and termination of the elections as well as the individuals who voted as well as the time and other details. In cases of dispute, the thumb print, representing cast votes of individuals who were delimited to a particular booth could be compared to their earlier votes to ascertain their authenticity.
INEC had chosen to emboss the photographs of the various contestants on the ballot papers to aid easy identification of candidates. However, photographs of certain candidates were omitted which put them at a disadvantage against other contenders. INEC admitted to this error stating that the boxes containing the ballot papers were sealed which was why the commission did not notice the omission until commencement of the elections. Adoption of e-voting would have ensured that the photographs were uploaded in advance hence providing a level playing field for all contenders. E-voting would ensure a proper information channel as results emanating from booths, wards, constituents and so on could be monitored easily.
Prior to the 2007 elections, the Federal Government of Nigeria released the names of certain individuals aspiring for public offices, but whom it disqualified because of what it described as their indictment by various government agencies. It was on the basis of this that INEC omitted the names of certain candidates from the list of contestants. Naturally, some of these persons sought redress from the courts, and some of the cases went on to the Supreme Court and here INEC was adjudged wrong in disqualifying any candidate.
By this judgement, it implied that the commission had to commence printing of nearly 65 million ballot papers at such a short notice. INEC chairman Prof. Iwu revealed that the ballot papers were printed in South Africa and due to the urgency of the situation, INEC’s plan of embossing the pictures of the presidential candidates was thwarted. The automation of the voting process would have saved the commission the resources expended on the contingency plan of flying to South Africa for the printing of the ballot papers as it would have entailed simply uploading the photograph(s) and additional information on the electronic voting machines.
While e-voting reduces human interface with the electoral results at various levels, which is a requisite for free and fair elections, many of the electoral flaws are directly related to the various human channels which the results have to go through. Under the 2006 Nigerian Electoral Act, the election results will be collated and announced through the following channels: the Presiding Officer at the Polling Station; the Ward Returning Officer at the Ward Collation Centre; the Returning Officer, at the Local Government/Area Council; the Returning Officer at the State Constituency Collation Centre; the Returning Officer at the Federal Constituency Collation Centre; the Returning Officer at the Senatorial District Collation Centre; the Resident Electoral Commissioner who shall be the Returning Officer at the Governorship election; and the Chief Electoral Commissioner who shall be the Returning Officer at the Presidential election.
Electronic Voting System
Electronic voting system (EVS) is defined as one of several forms of automated voting methods which employ computer technology devices to improve several aspects of the electoral process. EVS allows for the conduct of elections without the use of the traditional ballot paper and box for making a choice at elections. It is any of the several means of determining people’s collective intent electronically. It incorporates largely paperless voting methods among which are the direct recording electronic voting machine (DRE), mark – sense (optical scan) voting, punch card voting, internet voting, telephone IVR voting and so on. Advantages of the EVS include increased efficiency, anonymity, scalability, speed, audit as well as accuracy.
Author : Seun Igbolade
Article produced in the framework of PIWA "Information Societies" Prize 2008
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