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Electoral Reform: An appraisal of the case for e-voting

By Afe Babalola
It is in realization of the importance that the electioneering process plays in the fortunes of any country that much attention is always given to the electoral process itself. In the quest for the perfect election, Nigeria has experimented with different balloting system including the secret ballot system with some modifications.

ON March 30, 2017, the Senate passed an amendment to the Electoral Act 2010 empowering the Independent National Electoral Commission to adopt the use of electronic voting in subsequent elections in Nigeria. As is usual with pivotal developments of this nature, the introduction of e-voting has continued to attract comments from Nigerians.

While some consider it as long overdue, others call for a caution in the adoption of the new system. Without a doubt, the electoral process is central to the aspiration of any nation to achieve economic and political independence and sovereignty not only in law but in fact. A transparent electoral system is necessary towards the achievement of proper development.

Not too long ago, a candidate at an election was surprised that he had recorded zero votes in an election in which he asserted that he certainly voted for himself. He contended that he should at the very minimum have recorded one vote. This kind of scenario without a doubt rings very familiar to us all as far as elections in Nigeria are concerned. It is occurrences such as this that have fuelled calls for the introduction of E-voting in Nigeria. But is it the Panacea?

Definition of e-voting

E-voting or electronic voting comprises several different types of voting. It consists of electronic means of casting a vote and electronic means of counting votes. In other words, E-voting may involve both the process of casting and counting of votes or may relate only to the process of counting. An example of the latter that readily comes to mind is the process employed by most examination bodies inclusive of the West African Examination Council and Joint Admissions Matriculation Board in which candidates answer examination questions by shading multiple choice answer scripts only for the scripts themselves to be scrutinised and assessed with the aid of computers specifically designed for that purpose.

E-voting technology includes punched cards, optical scanned voting systems and specialised voting cubicles or kiosks including self-contained direct recording electronic voting systems popularly referred to as DRE. The term E-voting may also refer to transmission of ballots and votes through telephones, private computers or the internet.

BALLOTS

In early parliamentary elections, local government elections in the East and the West and in Town Council elections in the North, votes were cast secretly by the insertion of a ballot paper into a box that is marked with the name of the candidate, an optional photograph, and the symbol of the party. In rural areas of Northern Nigeria, open voting was adopted.

In multi-member constituencies, voters were permitted to cast a ballot for as many candidates as were to be elected. When the Electoral College system was in operation, voters in the primary and intermediate colleges normally balloted by a show of hands. In final colleges, voting was by secret ballot.

The secret ballot system (though in modified forms in some elections) has been used in almost all elections in the history of Nigeria.

Corruption, ‘money politics’ and the evolution of electoral system in Nigeria

Corruption and what is normally referred to as money politics became manifest during the period when the Electoral College system of voting was adopted in Nigeria. Final colleges were responsible for the election of persons to the House of Assembly. Candidates and their supporters bribed the final college members to influence the pattern of voting. Nwoke, a candidate to the Eastern House of Assembly in 1953 narrated his observations at the meeting of a final electoral college as follows:

“On the morning of the election some leaders of the clan or agents would wear special large over-flowing native robes with specially designed large pockets. These pockets would be filled with folded currency notes and time carrier (sic) rolled luxuriously to the polling station. He would take a stand directly opposite the voters but on the other side of the fence which was built to keep off intruders. He would greet him by shaking one of the folded notes into his hands and bidding him good by and naming the candidate, would ask him to call out the next on his bench. That process was repeated until the whole people were met and instructed………”

Corruption and money politics prompted the introduction of the direct election system which replaced the Electoral College system. This substantially reduced corruption and money politics initially but did not eliminate them. The big disadvantage of the direct election system was that it increased the financial burdens of candidates as candidates had to undertake widespread campaigns to win votes. This added expenditure as will be shortly revealed has also played a role in the corruption that has bedevilled our electoral system.

It is in realization of the importance that the electioneering process plays in the fortunes of any country that much attention is always given to the electoral process itself. In the quest for the perfect election, Nigeria has experimented with different balloting system including the secret ballot system with some modifications. In the 1993 Presidential elections, voters exercised their franchise by queuing behind the photograph of their choice.  It was this system that produced the Late Aare MKO Abiola as the winner of the election which is still widely regarded as the best in the history of Nigeria as a nation.

However since that system did not guarantee the anonymity of votes resulting in voter intimidation in some instances, we have since gone back to the open secret ballot system. Under this system a registered voter presents himself at the polling station and undergoes the process of accreditation in the open. After this he is issued a ballot paper with which he exercises his franchise and drops same in a transparent ballot box. After the close of voting, the ballot box is opened, ballot papers sorted and counted and the results of the polls announced.

As we have subsequently learnt, this system is not without its flaws. There are always instances of ballot box snatching, ballot box stuffing, inflation of votes, thuggery, violence etc. The result is that the Election Petition Tribunals are usually inundated with a deluge of Petitions filed by dissatisfied candidates. It is on record that some of the Petitions filed after the April, 2007 elections were concluded just a few months to the next general election in 2011. This informed amendments to the Constitution to set a time limit for the hearing of election petitions. It was in this context that some Nigerians called for the introduction of E-voting. Such was the clamour in some quarters for the introduction of the system of voting that it attracted an appreciable level of debate before both chambers of the National Assembly during the passage of the Electoral Act 2010 itself.         To be continued.

 

 

 

 


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