By Adedotun Ajayi
There is no gainsaying that technology will drastically reduce incidences of electoral malpractices such as: ballot stuffing, result sheet mutilation, manipulations, over voting, alteration of result sheets and hijacking of ballot boxes among other cases of electoral violence in Nigeria.
Despite the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) efforts at reducing electoral violence across the country, nothing much has been achieved regarding this as the situation is always tense whenever there is going to be an election in the country, be it general, state, or local government elections.
This is the more reason concerned citizens of the country are advocating for E-voting in order to address high rate of electoral violence that has characterized our electoral system.
E-voting allows voters to use electronic means in casting vote. Voting is a process that takes an important position in a democratic society. Its adoption in other countries in the world for electing their leaders does not have to be brought to the polling station, and can be done from home is gaining popularity as electronic voting (e-voting). Several advantages were noted in e-voting, such merits were listed as improved turn out, accessibility for impaired people, and improved accuracy and speed. The introduction of e-voting raises some of the same challenges faced when applying electronics to any other subject, for example e-government. It is a fundamental right of individuals of voting age to vote, as this is to prevent unqualified politicians from gaining access to the positions of power, choose new representatives and take a stand on important issues.
Democracy is more than votes – it is an expression of what one intends to do through documentation, campaigning and liaising with people in general. Through the long history of democracy, in the pursuit of power, some groups are willing to threaten voters in order to intimidate them; the only way to avoid intimidation is to adopt secret ballot system. This makes threat during voting period to become useless.
The open rights group in 2007 opined that for an election to be considered free and fair, it is expected to meet some international standards; those listed include accuracy, security and verifiability. Also, voters are only allowed one anonymous ballot each, which they can mark in privacy.
For an election to withstand the test of time, it must be robust and be ready to withstand a variety of fraudulent behaviors. It must also be sufficiently transparent and comprehensible so that voters and losers can accept the results of the election.
Formerly when elections were made traditionally, organizers determined who was eligible to vote and who should not even move close to polling stations.
This may involve a formal registration period or making a formal announcement of age of voters or other factors that might make one eligible to vote. Once the election begins, the administrator may validate the credentials of those attempting to vote. In contrary to the traditional way of voting, electronic voting is essential because it considers ways in which the polling tasks can be performed electronically without sacrificing voter privacy or introducing opportunities for fraud. In order to determine whether a system performs these tasks well or not it is useful however, to develop a set of criteria for evaluating system performance. The criteria to be developed are: accuracy, democracy, convenience, flexibility, privacy, verifiability and mobility. The adoption of e-voting in Nigeria should be a welcomed development as citizens would have the opportunity of electing their representatives within a very short time with high degree of credibility.
Previous elections in Nigeria have witnessed different types of political violence, At least 10 people were injured and dozens of vehicles were destroyed on Monday September 28, 2020 in the Owo area of Ondo state due to political violence in the town. Additionally, at least 20 vehicles and multiple motorcycles were destroyed during the skirmishes. The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) both blamed each other for the violence. Both sides claimed the other initiated the attacks, who were largely identified by the political branding of their clothing.
Also the bye-election for Ekiti East Constituency 1, last Saturday, ended abruptly, as thugs believed to be working for one of the political parties, opened fire that killed three people, while several others were injured.
Two police officers, one of who later died an officer of the Federal Road Safety Commission, a Corps member and presiding officer, as well as others who were also shot during the mayhem are now in critical conditions at the Methodist Hospital, Omuo General Hospital and Ikole General Hospital.
Speaking with The Hope, Khalid Okunade, a legal practitioner stressed the need for E-voting in Nigeria. According to him, “When talking about a secure election we mean the overlap of security layers that are implemented to ensure that the votes counted are in accordance with the will of the voters and that they have been issued by the voters. In addition to logical and physical protection layers, mechanisms are established to ensure that only users accredited by an official document participate, so that, all security guarantees are provided that equates the electronic voting process with a classic electoral process. Also, voting on the Internet provides a safe and private channel that allows all users to participate on equal terms, increased accessibility for residents abroad and for persons with difficulties in travelling or reduced mobility. This also has a positive impact on the final turnout and the legitimacy of the election.
According to Praise Essein, a legal practitioner, “Electronic voting will speed up the whole voting process, especially where advance voting is concerned. After voting in the polling booth, voters no longer have to go to the election official to have their ballots stamped and wait until the election official has made an entry in the voting register to record that they have voted. Similarly, when voting on election day, voters no longer have to wait for their ballots to be stamped or drop them into the ballot box.
In a country like Nigeria where elections are always bedevilled with violence and menace Electronic voting will increase the security and reliability of elections. An electronic vote is transported safely, reliably and fast into the centralized electronic ballot box. When electronic voting has been introduced on a wider scale to cover the whole country, it may be possible to vote at any polling station, regardless of domicile.
Further, in electronic voting it is not possible to make voting errors by mistake, because the identification information of the chosen candidate will appear on the screen before the vote is confirmed. The whole E-voting process would not only benefit the voters but also the authorities because electronic voting reduces and simplifies the work of the authorities significantly. Electronic voting leads to notable cost savings through reduced personnel, especially in the advance voting. For instance the following functions are no longer needed in electronic voting: stamping the ballot and sealing the ballot in the election envelope, filling in the covering letter, making the entries in the voting register, sending the voting documents to the central municipal electoral board, examining the documents at the central municipal electoral board, transportation of the election envelopes to the constituency electoral board (not in municipal elections), opening the envelopes and counting the votes and separate registration of the election result in the election information system, among others.
Countries with the best democracies in the world have embraced E-voting long before now. It’s time for Nigeria as a country to do the same.