Electronic voting and transmission of results – the imperative to safeguard democracy

As the Conference Committee of the National Assembly begins to harmonize the bill amending the electoral law, PREMIUM TIMES considers it necessary to reiterate the need to adopt an electoral law that fully takes into account both electronic voting and electronic transmission of results. We firmly believe that such a step would safeguard Nigerian democracy.

The main objective of the Conference Committee is to reconcile the two versions of the draft amendment as adopted respectively by the Senate and the House of Representatives.

While the version of Article 52 of the House of Representatives gives the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) the power to determine the voting procedure and transmission of election results, the Senate version specifies that INEC can only do so with the approval of the National Communications Commission (NCC). Naturally, civil society organizations (CSOs) have drawn attention to the fact that the Senate version would compromise the independence of the CENI, and therefore is against the public and national interest. We agree with the CSOs and urge the commission to incorporate both electronic voting and electronic transmission of results into the electoral amendment bill. Our reasons are not far-fetched.

Electronic voting or electronic voting is the use of electronic machines to facilitate voting and counting. It works either with computers connected to the Internet or with an electronic voting machine (EVM) which records the votes by means of a display of ballots. The EVM is a box-like computer machine that comes with an attached ballot box, where the generated ballots fall that voters use to vote.

The digitization and digitization of almost all aspects of modern life has been a major result of the technological revolution. He’s seen super-fast computers and smart phones revolutionize banking. This is forcing central banks around the world to face the threat to their ability to create fiat money from cryptocurrencies. The virtualization of the stock markets has made it easier to move from the auction system, favored by the famous halls of New York, London and Paris, to automated algorithms that initiate and complement buy / sell decisions.

In all this, the surprise is that the elections, given their importance for the governance of our societies, remain largely untouched by this revolution across the world. Only two countries have an established tradition of electronic voting – India and Brazil. Both countries held very free, fair and credible elections through electronic voting. Currently, however, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is determined to abandon electronic voting as polls indicate he might not win the next election if they are free and fair. Significantly, the United States was the first country to introduce voting machines to the world; but it is still a contested method in the country. Other countries like Estonia, Namibia, the Philippines and Mongolia have made valiant efforts to introduce and regularize electronic voting, but in most of them it remains a contested methodology.

For Africa, the cost of paper ballot elections, with their massive logistical needs, the movement of hordes of ad hoc polling staff and security officials, high security printing costs, slow and cumbersome counting. , often open to manipulation and fraud, is the best case that can be made for the transition to electronic voting. The problem is that because electoral credibility often requires trust, the testimony of the eyes of citizens, in most parts of the world, indicates that electronic voting is viewed with suspicion. The Indian example, where the results are never disputed, offers little consolation. This trust deficit has been overcome in this Southeast Asian country by decades of use. Indian voters know this is a credible system.

The burning question is, what if the system gets hacked and the results altered? It appears that exercised by this concern, President Buhari refused to sign the electoral bill leading up to the 2019 elections because his party feared that the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) might be able to hack the draft. electronic transmission of results, even if there was no evidence. that the fear was justified. As blockchain technology develops, it has become clearer today that it is possible to vote electronically without fear of hacking. However, technological assurance may not be enough to dispel fear.

In 2018, Kaduna State became the first state in Nigeria to hold an election using an electronic voting system. The feat was repeated on September 4. In 2018, the Kaduna State government replaced the Kaduna State Independent Election Commission Act No. 10 of 2012 and other ancillary matters with the Kaduna Independent Election Commission Act 2018. Kaduna State to pave the way for electronic voting. in the state. Section 16 (3) of the law provides that the State Independent Election Commission has the power to determine the method by which voters may be verified and accredited for the purpose of casting their vote. It states that: “This verification and this vote must be done by means of approved electronic devices, a chip card reader and an electronic voting machine”.

In the elections that followed, Governor Nasir El-Rufai reportedly lost his polling station. His response was, “People were laughing that I lost my voting unit, but you know democracy won… those who claim the machines were programmed were ashamed when it was reported that APC had lost in my voting unit.

Obviously, the best advertisement for electronic voting is that in the 2018 and 2021 local elections in Kaduna state, the ruling party did not win all the seats. The security situation in the state, however, made it impossible to conclude elections in all parts of Kaduna state.

Meanwhile, the National Assembly has been reluctant to even go so far as to authorize the electronic transmission of votes. As is known, the black hole of the Nigerian electoral process is the compilation of results. Elections would normally run smoothly at the voting unit level and would be counted openly in the presence of voters and the results displayed. People would go home happy with the transparency of the process. Confidence issues with our elections seem to be at the collation level, where the alleged winners sometimes turn into losers. It is for this reason that the INEC proposed the modification of the electoral law which would allow the electronic transmission of the results directly from the voting unit to the national and national headquarters of the INEC. While the House of Representatives accepted the provision, the Senate refused to accept it by justifying this using the National Communications Commission (NCC) as an alibi. The NCC has approached the National Assembly to say that only half of the polling stations (50.3%) in the country have a 3G network to transmit the election results. Senate Speaker Ahmed Lawan was a leader of the Eighth Senate who debated and passed the provision at length. Why is the Senate today suddenly opposed to this provision?

On October 13, the “INEC Position Paper 1: Electronic Transmission of Results” was published by the electoral management body, where he described in detail his 10 years of experience in testing the electronic transmission of results. He clearly demonstrated that 93 percent of polling stations have an adequate infrastructure for the electronic transmission of results and determined how to cover the remaining 7 percent. Contrary to the new position of NCC, today there are no technological obstacles in the country to the electronic transmission of results. The concerns of the Senate can only be political.

PREMIUM TIMES calls on the Senate to adopt the progressive position of the House of Representatives in the current work of the Joint Commission to reconcile the two versions of the bill. The use of technology since 2011 has started a positive trend in improving the quality and integrity of Nigerian elections and this trend is expected to continue. PREMIUM TIMES believes that INEC should continue its adoption of relevant technologies and vigorously pursue its research on how best to introduce electronic voting in Nigeria in the near future.

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