The endorsement of electronic voting by the Senate is good for our democracy

Following a successful consideration of the report of its committee on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) matters, the Senate has amended the Electoral Act of 2010 to legalise the use of card readers for authenticating the identity of voters in subsequent elections. By the same token, this legislation paves the way for the introduction of electronic voting and also empowers INEC to transmit election results electronically from polling stations to collation centres.

 In many ways, this is a landmark development as the legislation recognises a long standing public clamour for an electoral system that would reduce and in fact eliminate the endless disputations that usually follow elections in Nigeria. As we have seen over the years, a democracy in which electoral outcomes have neither credibility nor integrity can only degenerate into the anarchy of swaggering victors and insurgent vanquished.

 The Nigerian experience with democracy has for long been marred by a fraudulent electoral system. Ballot stuffing, manipulation of results, snatching of ballot boxes and compromise of election officials to falsify results had more or less become the norm. Consequently, there is little public confidence in the integrity of our elections and the results they produce. Arguably, these tainted elections have, in most cases, ended up enthroning candidates other than those chosen by the electorate.

 More embarrassingly, the crisis of confidence and lack of trust in the Nigerian electoral system has virtually transferred the onus of determining outcomes to the judiciary rather than the voters. Endless post election litigations and protracted court processes, appeals and conflicting judgments on election-related matters have infected the judiciary with the massive corruption that has become part of the brand identity of Nigerian politics.  These indeterminacies have remained because of the manual nature of voter identification, balloting and result collation in our electoral system.

 The precedent of the electoral system of various advanced democracies shows clearly that credible elections are made possible by the adoption of the best technologies. Yet by remaining with the manual electoral system, Nigeria is not being faithful to its rush for modernisation in other spheres of life. In a country whose banking system is easily one of the most technologically savvy in the world, it is anachronistic that the electoral system that empowers the ruling class should remain mired in antiquity.

 Given our sad experiences since independence with the existing method of voting, this newspaper has for long advocated the need to experiment with e-voting. We are of course not oblivious of some possible problems it could encounter. The unreliable public power supply is one major hindrance. Training the needed manpower is another. And we recognise the fact of illiteracy.

 However, we believe that Nigeria cannot afford to lag behind in adopting e-voting, especially when many of our citizens have lost confidence in the extant electoral voting method because of its susceptibility to manipulation. Without any doubt, a reliable e-voting system will help eliminate disputes over electoral fraud and thereby obviate the need for long-drawn litigations.

In the context of these considerations, the Senate deserves commendation for the amendment to the 2010 Electoral Act. We urge the House of Representatives to speed up their own amendment process so that it can be sent to President Muhammadu Buhari for assent. The challenge would then be for INEC to open itself up to the best technologies and allow enough time to test run the devices it may decide to use.

 However, the choice of an appropriate technology for voter authentication, balloting and result collation and transmission is a national security issue. Decisions about its acquisition and deployment should therefore be subjected to the most rigorous due process in order to ascertain what is best for the nation and its citizens. In adopting any of the available technological options in the market, INEC must publicly show where such devices have worked in existing democracies. With e-voting, the genuine votes of the electorate will not only be counted under a transparent process, they would also begin to count.

 

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Nigeria cannot afford to lag behind in adopting e-voting, especially when many of our citizens have lost confidence in the extant electoral voting method because of its susceptibility to manipulation. Without any doubt, a reliable e-voting system will help eliminate disputes over electoral fraud and thereby obviate the need for long-drawn litigations