In a democratic system of government, voting is a vital component of any election, as it involves the processes of electing leaders or representatives to positions of authority.
Registration of accredited voters, casting of votes, counting and collation of results, and announcement of election results are all examples of electoral processes in a democratic election. In most underdeveloped countries of the world, this process is generally marred with many irregularities such as falsification of results, identity theft, theft of ballot boxes, multiple voting problems, and electoral fraud only to mention a few.
Nigeria, Africa’s largest democracy, has for many years been kept down by issues of election fraud, thuggery, bloodshed as seen in prior manual elections in the country. Bloodletting, fabrication of results, stolen ballot boxes, over-voting, manipulation, and disenfranchisement of voters are among the many anomalies that define Nigerian elections.
The implementation of electronic voting in Nigeria would result in a significant decrease in costs normally spent on ballot paper printing, transportation of election materials, and other logistics, which could be used to meet other needs of Nigerians.
E-voting is becoming a widely acknowledged trend for exercising electoral power around the world franchise. It is simply an election system that allows voters to cast, transmit, and count votes using electronic tools and processes. Estonia, Namibia, Brazil, and Australia are among the countries that have embraced it.
There are two types of electronic voting in general:
- E-voting is voting that is physically supervised by representatives of governmental or independent electoral bodies (e.g. electronic voting machines at polling stations).
- Remote e-voting via the Internet (also referred to as i-voting), in which the voter submits his or her vote electronically to the election authorities from anywhere.
Electronic voting and electronic counting allow major countries like India, Brazil, and the Philippines to release election results in a timely manner. The approach enables voters to elect legitimate candidates without undue influence, to protect the secrecy of their votes at each stage of the voting process, and to ensure that all voters are accessible. As a result, voters develop trust and confidence in electoral institutions.
On November 4, 2020, Nigeria’s electoral agency, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), stated that a new round of voter registration would begin in the first quarter of 2021 and terminate six months before the general elections in 2023. Plans to transition to electronic voting had been revealed in September, before this statement.
The declaration was made to guarantee that scheduled election timetables are not changed, as is the case with the elections in Edo and Ondo states, to control the transmission of the coronavirus by limiting physical gatherings.
The e-voting method is intended to kick off electronic balloting, which involves the use of machines to cast votes at polling stations. For the time being, the Commission has the legal authority to conduct e-balloting in only a few states.
The Nigerian Constitution has not been modified to allow electronic transmission of election results, despite repeated pleas from the National Assembly. Some components of the e-voting process are apparent in the electoral system, including biometric registration and accreditation, smart card readers for verification, a result viewing portal, electronic voting machines (EVMs) etc.
The adoption of card readers, according to Idayat Hassan, director of the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), “revolutionized the electoral process” and made it harder for politicians to change the people’s will. “It is critical to note that card readers have aided in the reduction of electoral fraud.”
“It was after Nigeria began to use the card reader that turnout and the number of votes cast decreased,” – Idayat Hassan.
Idayat went on to say that smart card readers have angered politicians to the extent that election violence has increased and vote-buying has become a common form of election sabotage.
But, the question still remains, Is Nigeria ready for Electronic voting?
The House of Representatives rejected motions to use electronic voting in the upcoming 2019 general elections on May 31st, 2018. The decision was made while the House was debating the Election Act (Amendment) Bill, 2018, which has a long title of “A bill for an Act to alter the provisions of the Electoral Act, No. 6, 2010 to further strengthen the electoral process and for connected concerns.”
The Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC) planned deployment of Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) for the November 6, 2021 governorship election in Anambra State appears to have hit a snag.
The National Assembly’s failure to pass the Electoral Act Amendment bill by the end of March, as promised, was reported to be a major impediment to the plan.
BENEFITS OF E-VOTING DURING ELECTION
1. The prospect of greater efficiency is one of the major advantages of this new technology. With Electronic Voting Machines, voters may cast their ballots with confidence that their vote will indeed be counted.
2. New Electronic Voting Machines can also help voters avoid classic election mistakes like selecting too many or no candidates, hence enhancing voting’s overall efficacy.
3. Electronic voting through email has the potential to make voting more convenient for persons who are otherwise geographically disconnected from polling places. Lorrie Faith Cranor, presently an Associate Research Professor in Computer Science and Engineering & Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University, stated in Crossroads in 1996, “Eventually electronic voting may be a feasible way to increasing voter participation in political elections.” Improved voter engagement, whether through increased accessibility, lower costs, ease of participation, or any other manner, certainly benefits the larger community.
4. Electronic voting can also help to combat fraud by removing the possibility of ballot tampering. This hazard exists, though, if paper ballots are printed as a backup in case a recount is required. Michael Shamos of Carnegie Mellon University, who supports electronic voting but is opposed to paper machines, claims that “paper voting records have shown themselves to be horrifically vulnerable and easy to manipulate for the previous 250 years.” They have so many faults in practice that they are on par with punched-card voting at its worst.” However, if paper ballots are abolished, so is the danger of using them to deceive voters.
INEC personnel should be knowledgeable, especially when it comes to the usage of new technology. They should also be taught and certified in the use of all voting machines. In order to perform e-voting, all logistical assistance should be given. Teething problems should also be anticipated and addressed, as any logistical blunder will be interpreted as an attempt to disenfranchise citizens; thus, thorough planning with logistics operators and security authorities is required. The transition from manual to electronic voting will have an impact on how observation missions are conducted.
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