No Legal Barrier to Electronic Voting, Says INEC

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Onyebuchi  Ezigbo in Abuja
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on Sunday said every legal inhibition on the use of electronic voting in the country had been abrogated.

The commission said the amendment of Section 52 of Electoral Act done just before President Goodluck Jonathan left office in 2015 had given it powers to determine what form of voting it should apply during elections, including the adoption of electronic means of voting.

The introduction of the use of Card Reader device during the 2015 general election sparked agitations from several stakeholders, especially politicians and political parties who accused INEC of acting outside the provisions of the law.

But INEC’s Deputy Director in-charge of  Voter Education and Publicity, Mr. Nick Dazang, who spoke to THISDAY yesterday on  telephone, said though the commission now has the powers to introduce any innovation that can improve voting process, any such initiatives still has to be appropriated for and accepted by  stakeholders for it to become operational.

“The law has been amended, section 52 of the Electoral Act has been amended to provide for the INEC to conduct the election in a manner as determined by it. This amendment now gives INEC the latitude to determine how it wants voting to take place,” he said.

He said: “Initially Section 52 of the Electoral Act says that electronic voting is prohibited but shortly before President Goodluck Jonathan left office in 2015, some parts of the Electoral Act were amended including Section 52 and the amended version states that voting shall now be as determined by INEC. So it is now left for the commission to determine when and how it is going to introduce the electronic voting.”

Dazang explained that the commission is always ready to carry members of the public and key stakeholders along in any  initiative it plans to adopt in order to improve the country’s electoral system.

Regarding the introduction of electronic voting, Dazang said there was still a long way to go both in terms of acceptability and availability of funds to carry out the project.
“But I suspect that it will not automatically be introduced just because the commission has been given that latitude. There must be some pilot exercise and INEC may also need to carry out some test-run to ensure that it is in a good position to adopt electronic voting.

“ Also, there must be budgetary provisions, for instance, if you want to use electronic voting machines, you must procure them and the items must be provided for in the budget . But before we even reach there, we must also do some pilot scheme, we have to test such device ahead of time. Get the buy-in of stakeholders before it can be deployed.

Speaking on the need to fill the existing vacancies in the INEC’s board, Dazang said though it is necessary for the commission to operate with a full compliment of the National Commissioners, and Resident Electoral Commissioners, their absence is not having any negative impact on the conduct of affairs of the electoral body.

He also said the non-appointment of the outstanding commissioners has nothing to do with the spate of inconclusive elections being witnessed in recent times.
“Yes we do not have the compliment of all the national commissioners and the 21 resident electoral commissioners whose tenures have elapsed. INEC has made representations to the president to nominate and appoint the outstanding national commissioners and resident electoral commissioners.

“But in spite of the lacuna that exists, it has not affected the conduct of our elections or our operations in any way, in the sense that all the elections that were conducted since November, have always be conducted by a resident electoral commissioner and he has always been supported either by other resident electoral commissioners  or by administrative secretaries drawn from some of the states.

“Some of these administrative secretaries have conducted more three or four elections before now so they have the requisite corporate electoral experience to conduct elections. And fourthly the lacuna in the constitution of the INEC  board has nothing to do with the inconclusive elections in the country, because like we have always said it is true that 99 per cent of the inconclusive elections in the country, since November, 2015 to the present date,  have been caused by violence.

“If you look at section 26 of the Electoral Act as amended, it says wherever there is violence in the conduct of elections, the elections shall be cancelled in the polling units where the violence took place.

“Also if you look at section 53 of the Electoral Act, it says that where there is over-voting, that is where the total number of votes cast in an election is in excess of the total number of accredited voters, then the election in the polling unit shall be declared null and void,” he said.