By Afe Babalola
“Are we adequately equipped for the operation of the electronic voting? Countries which have operated this system for decades still grapple with it despite the advanced state of their technological development. It must be appreciated that the problems bedevilling elections in Nigeria do not entirely relate to the accuracy of the process of voting and collation of votes. It is more of an attitudinal problem on the part of the electorates and the Politicians who will stop at nothing to attain political power”.
On the 31st of May 2018, the House of Representatives rejected moves for the adoption of electronic voting during the upcoming 2019 general elections. The House took the decision whilst considering the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill, 2018, the long title of which is, “A bill for an Act to amend the provisions of the Electoral Act, No. 6, 2010 to further improve the electoral process and for related matters.”
For a long time, 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. While I agree that its introduction is very much needed to further guarantee transparency in the nations’s electoral system, just as the introduction of electronic card readers has done, I consider that much more still needs to be done in terms of infrastructural development and support.
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.
Electronic voting offers a wide variety of advantages compared to other traditional voting methods. E-voting can speed up the process of distribution, voting, sorting, counting and collation of votes. It is estimated that in the 2004 elections in the United State, 1 million more ballots were counted than in 2000 because the improved electronic voting machines were able to detect votes that paper based machines utilized in the punching method would have missed.
However, as with virtually every innovation of man, electronic voting is not without its disadvantages. In 2004, three experts drawn respectively from the Department of Computer Science and Engineering of the University of California, Information Security Institute, John Hopkins University and the Department of Computer Science Rise University published a paper entitled “Analysis of an Electronic Voting System.” The abstract of the paper reads as follows:
“Our analysis shows that this voting system is far below even the most minimal security standards applicable in other contexts. We identify several problems including unathorized privilege escalation, incorrect use of cryptography, vulnerabilities to network threats, and poor software development processes. We show that voters, without any insider privileges, can cast unlimited votes without being detected by any mechanisms within the voting terminal software. Furthermore, we show that even the most serious of our outsider attacks could have been discovered and executed without access to the source code. In the face of such attacks, the usual worries about insider threats are not the only concerns; outsiders can do the damage. That said, we demonstrate that the insider threat is also quite considerable, showing that not only can an insider, such as a poll worker, modify the votes, but that insiders can also violate voter privacy and match votes with the voters who cast them. We conclude that this voting system is unsuitable for use in a general election.
The above extract I believe is self explanatory.
E-Voting cannot address our electoral and political problems
The first consideration that readily comes to mind is whether we are adequately equipped for the operation of the electronic voting? Countries which have operated this system for decades still grapple with it despite the advanced state of their technological development. Our major concern with our present system of voting is the propensity of our politicians to explore it through rigging to their own unfair and illegal advantage. Yet even with this system, we are still able to detect, through adequate checks, instances of electoral fraud. This much is indicated by some successful election Petitions in which the victory of the elected candidates were upturned by the Tribunals.
Need for change in attitude
In this regard, it must be appreciated that the problems bedevilling elections in Nigeria do not entirely relate to the accuracy of the process of voting and collation of votes. It is more of an attitudinal problem on the part of the electorate and the Politician who will stop at nothing to attain political power. It also has to do with our constitutional make up which has not only made elective office too attractive but has also concentrated power at the centre to the detriment of the states which make up the federation of Nigeria.
The average Nigerian politician in his quest to attain political power does not believe in the articulation and propagation of his programmes or manifesto to the populace prior to election. He is only interested in securing votes by any means necessary. To this end, he would earmark millions of Naira to buy votes on the day of election. Where this fails, he would resort to his army of thugs who will without a thought to the consequences of their action unleash violence through acts of brigandage including snatching and stuffing of ballot boxes.
The average voter on the other hand has over time come to believe that his vote does not really matter in the eventual scheme of events. It is his conviction that no matter how the votes, the candidate who is prepared to spend the greatest amount of money and unleash the most violence will eventually be declared the winner of the election. So rather than vote according to the dictates of his conscience for a candidate who might afterall end up losing the election, he would rather sell that vote to the candidate who is willing to pay the most for it. The resultant effect is that the politician who is eventually elected into public office in such circumstances will not harbour any feeling of duty or responsibility to the electorate. On the contrary he will only set about recouping his investment with accrued interest. In the final analysis he will see pubic office as an avenue for accumulation of wealth rather than service to the public.
The solution lies in voter education. It lies in the formulation of government policies aimed at the eradication of illiteracy and poverty. A solution must be found to voter apathy which has characterised most elections since the incursion of the military into politics.
Nigerians must realise the importance of turning out on the day of election. Rather than staying at home or sending their servants out to vote in their stead, in the false belief that their votes would not matter, Nigerians must turn out in their millions to vote on Election Day.