How Ready is Nigeria for Digitised Elections

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Emma Okonji writes on the need for Nigeria to adopt basic technology solutions that will help the country achieve credible and globally acceptable results in the 2019 general election

Technology has disrupted and revolutionised businesses, civil society and the individual’s daily activities. From small start-ups to large corporations, technology has penetrated the most ordinary tasks like hailing a taxi. It has also created extraordinary possibilities, like patients in rural villages having access to best medical facilities in cities. Likewise, the citizens have come to expect institutions to keep pace with realities of modern technology.

In the Nigerian climate, one key institution that should be concerned about using technology to enhance its activities is the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that is currently preparing for the 2019 elections, whose processes are supposed to be driven by modern day technology.

It believed that   INEC can conduct hitch-free, fair and successful elections  when it adopts technology to automate all its electoral process and Nigerians are looking forward to this achievement.

Elections on digital platform

In less than 450  days from now, Nigerians will return to the polls for another round of elections, both at the federal and state levels. The permutations and realignments within the political folds are already on the front burner.

Political parties are gearing up for the ‘battle’ ahead, making strategies on how to woo the electorate who are   losing interest due to disappointments from the politicians. The goodwill shown by the voters over time has been neglected. Thus, the parties are beginning to appreciate the fact that elections these days can’t be won with the barrel of guns. Therefore, every avenue to appeal to the conscience of the electorate will be exploited, particularly by ‘meeting’ the voter who is presently on the digital space.

Addressing electoral ills with technology 

 

The electoral umpire is also thinking of ways to prevent malpractices; leveraging technology to stay ahead of manipulators.  From the electorate’s perspective, the emphasis is on convenient electoral processes. We already have a convenient banking system powered by Fintech; convenient commerce through e-commerce; e-education, telemedicine, among others. Yet the process of casting a ballot stands in stark contrast, typically involving marking a paper ballot with a pen or pencil. And counting those paper ballots—even in many of the most developed, long-standing democracies- is often a manual process. Halfway through the second decade of the 21st century , the mechanics of the voting process remain largely rooted in the past.

 

 

Adopting e-voting system 

The INEC proved this thinking five months ago by inaugurating a 20-member Inter-Agency Technical Committee to assess a newly-developed e-voting system.

The e-voting machine was developed by the National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure (NASENI). The agency, led by the Minister for Science and Technology, Ogbonnaya Onu, had in June 2017 paid a visit to the commission for a demonstration of a prototype e-voting machine developed by NASENI. Well, e-voting should not be seen only from the vote casting perspective, rather it should be all encompassing. We need a digital process that redeems the time for both the umpire and the voter, starting with voter registration.

From the foregoing, it is clear that both the government and the electorates must find how to embrace the digital age and its benefits to redirect the electoral processes as means to maintain integrity and legitimacy, ensuring stronger democracy for the country.

President of Estonia, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, perfectly captured this, saying, “In an era where citizens engage in everything from communication to education to leisure through technology, it is time to assess how elections can become reflective of modern realities.”

Therefore, implementing digital solutions to strengthen the electoral processes is a sine qua non for credible, free and fair elections in 2019. Nigeria should borrow a leaf from countries like Estonia.

INEC needs digital interventions

 

 No industry has escaped the impact of the technological revolution, so elections shouldn’t remain an exception. Certain areas, such as voter registration ought to have benefitted from a greater willingness to use new technologies than others, such as ballot casting and counting.

As INEC is currently registering new voters, the system should be transparent where a platform for online voter registration is made more frequently available where self-registration is required. In the United States, for instance, online registration is growing exponentially, from two states in 2008 to over  29 states during the last elections that brought Donald Trump to power.

When Great Britain launched the option of online registration in March 2015, over two million Britons registered to vote online during the five weeks prior to the deadline for the national elections.

In Great Britain, the age group of 25-34 applied online in great number, bolstering the electoral participation of this chronically underrepresented demographic.

Online voter registration has resulted in more complete and accurate voter rolls. An added benefit is the significant labour cost savings compared with hand-written paper forms that are often illegible and marred by data-entry errors.

INEC has it on record that 15 per cent of voters during the 2015 Presidential elections actually determined the fate of the remaining 85 per cent others who didn’t participate. Have we asked why people are not registering or participating in electoral processes? One answer that comes to mind is ‘cumbersome processes’. INEC has tried to make it possible to check the status of one’s permanent voter registration. Experts rather prefer a situation where people login to INEC website or the portal provided and request that their PVC be posted to them and make little payment as dispatch fee.

Also, check-in at voting locations is beginning to move away from printing and assembling hundreds of pages of voters lists, to presenting poll books on tablets or other electronic devices. Smartphone applications show voters their polling station location. Uploading unofficial election results to government websites on election night has become common.

 

Solving the problems  with tech solutions 

While INEC may not be able to develop solutions that would solve all the problems that have been highlighted, it is not far-fetch to find very capable home-grown identity management organisations that create seamless solutions which meet this vital need.

An example is Remita homegrown solution, developed by SystemSpecs, which has become a money-saving technology solution for the federal government through the Treasury Single Account (TSA). Another capable homegrown solution is BioRegistra, developed by Seamfix Technology, which possesses all the functionalities for easing the country’ electoral processes into a digital one.

Although Nigeria may not seem to be digitally ready for the 2019 elections at the moment, it is, however, obvious that the country has what it takes to go digital for future elections.