Department of Political Science/Public Administration
Ebonyi State University, Abakaliki
Nigeria’s electoral process over the years never had the people’s confidence, little wonder they had always been numerous complaints by politicians at each election. This paper is an attempt to critically examine the electronic voting system option for future elections in the country. The paper will delve specifically on the significance of this new system and its relevance to the Nigeria polity visa viz the realities that Nigeria is a growing democracy where majority of her electorates are illiterates. The paper will a/so discuss the advantages which the new system has over other systems the country has experimented.
It is a truism that in contemporary era, democracy is not only seen but is the best system of government globally especially its guarantee of the fundamental rights of the citizens. But it is also on records that sustainable democracy can only be guaranteed where the system of selecting leaders is not only free but fair, so as to ensure that electorates are guaranteed the freedom to elect those who become their leaders.
The history of electoral process in Nigeria has been a chequered one as the country had at various times adopted different methods as a way out of ensuring free and fair elections. But this was not to be as there is hardly any election that had been conducted in Nigeria where there had not been a lot of complaints about irregularities. From the secret balloting system to the open ballot and eyen the open secret (option A4) introduced by the administration of General Ibrahim Babangida had been bedeviled with a lot of irregularities. It is in bearing these realities in mind that when Professor Maurice Iwu was last year appointed the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, the Electronic Voting System was one of the challenging reforms, which he introduced into the Nigeria electoral process. It is his believe that this latest system if adopted will bring Nigeria to the promised land and thereafter build the people’s confidence in the electoral system as the system will be devoid of the institutionalized irregularities that is usually a feature of Nigeria elections. An in-depth examination of the electronic voting system for Nigeria elicits numerous fundamental questions “can electronic voting system be devoid of manipulations by Nigeria politicians? With the high level of illiteracy in the country, can the electorate adequately cope with this system of voting? Can the security of people’s votes be guaranteed taking cognizance of the realities that these electronic devices are been manipulated by human beings who can unduly favour particular candidates or political parties to the detriment of others and also with the poor state of the economy in Nigeria, can government cope with the financial burden of procuring these devices that can adequately serve the wholepolling stations in the country? Answers to these questions will form major part of this paper.
WHAT IS ELECTRONIC VOTING SYSTEM?
For Iwu (2006) Electronic Voting System is one of the several forms of automated voting methods, which employ computer technology devices to improve several aspects of the electoral process. He went further to assert that the electronic system incorporates largely paperless voting methods prominent among which are electronic voting machine (EVM), Internet voting, telephone, IVR voting, digital TV voting, electronic kiosk voting, etc. The Nigeria electronic voting system continued IWU is an image based integrated programme, which consists of the following components.
- Electronic voters register
- Eligible voters’ Authentication
- Electronic Balloting (voting machine)
The electronic voting system also known as e-voting can equally be said to be a development where peoples’ collective intent are electronically determined as votes are cast electronically using what is called is called barcode, it is believed that when the electronic system is employed, it allows for security of the votes cast and which will fundamentally allow the choice candidates by the electorate to carry the day during electrons.
TYPES OF ELECTRONIC SYSTEM
Voting electronically during elections takes several systems depending on the ones a particular country would wish to practice and they amongst others include.
- Direct Recording Electronic: This is a machine that incorporates assertive technologies especially for the handicapped people as it allows them to vote without the assistances of any person. However the major flaw of this system remains the fact that it does not keep a voter verifiable paper ballot for recounts and audits which invariably makes this system the least secure of all voting system.
- Mark-Sense (optical scan) voting: This is also a system where the voter marks a paper ballot and feeds it into a ballot box. Automatic sensors at a central located or at the precinct may tally the voter. With these precinct-tallied votes, the system usually verifies that the ballot is legitimate as they. Accept the ballot. It should however be noted that improper marks on the ballot are the primary cause of problem with mark- sense voting as the mark may be inadvertent, accidentally outside the prescribed locations, made with anincompatible writing instrument, or incomplete.
- Punch card voting: This is a development where voters create holes in prepared ballot cards to indicate their choices. They ate of two main vendor systems. Data vote and Votomatic. The data votes usually employ a cutting tool and vacuum to clean away material from imperforated cards indicating the voters’ choices while the automatic voting machines require the voter to punch out a perforated rectangle (i.e. a chad) from the card using a stylus. Studies have shown that the Datavote systems have higher accuracy than the votomatic machines as the votomatic machines are bedeviled by numerous problem associated with the handling of the perforated cards and the problems associated with the 2000 United States Presidential election is a case in point.
- Internet voting: Internet voting is a situation where people cast their votes on line generally via a website interface. With web voting the voter navigates to the proper election site using a web browser on an ordinary PC and appropriate blank ballot form presented on screen. The voter then fills out the ballot form and, when satisfied, clicks the “cast vote” button to send the completed ballot back to the election server. However, care must be taken in the use of the internet voting for public elections where the security, privacy and audit ability standards are much higher. This stem from the realities that the use of this system of voting is dangerous due largely to security problems inherent in the PC and in the internet. The major flaw of the PC architecture is its vulnerability to malicious code, which can be introduced through countless different channels to interfere with voting in often-undetectable ways. The voter may be prevented from voting, or the privacy of the vote might be compromised, or the vote might be altered before transmission without the voter’s knowledge.
- Telephone voting: This is a system of voting which allows people to call different numbers to indicate preference for different options, or a voter might call one number and indicate a preference by pressing buttons in a menu system.
Its major drawback is the difficulty in verifying the identity of the voter and in permitting only one vote per person but its chief advantage remains the ease in getting to participate in the election.
OBVIOUS ADVANTAGES OF ELECTRONIC VOTING SYSTEM.
In a fledgling democracy like that of Nigeria, there exist a lot of inherent advantages in the electronic system.
- Programming of the machines to display ballots in different languages is one major advantage of the electronic voting system especially to the developing countries of the world. For instance, in Nigeria where there exist a good number of illiterate voters, there will be ease in voting as language barrier with the electorate are removed since the machine will have ballots in the different languages in the country for easy accessibility.
- Easy and full accessibility of the machine by disabled voters is also another advantage of this system due principally to the realities that others usually assist some disabled voters before the introduction of this system during elections, a development which may not guarantee the real choice of the disabled voter. With this innovation, the disabled voter can now heave a sigh of relief.
- Faster counts and quick delivery of election results is another advantage of this system. It is believed that this system can bring about election results being counted in minutes and results declared and this will go a long way in stamping out undue delay over announcement of election results that had more often than not led to manipulation of election results especially in Nigeria.
- Cost saving especially through the reduced amount of specialist printing required. It is also envisaged that the electronic system will reduce cost of not only printings but the real election as not so much will be required for campaigns by politicians since most people may stay at home and use the telephone system thereby removing undueuse of financial inducement to lure voters to vote for particular candidates.
- Increased participation of voters. The electronic voting system will lead to increase participation of voters in the electoral process as most voters may prefer the use of the remote voting system via the internet and even in third world countries judging the distance of polling stations; most electorate would wish to use the remote voting system.
PROBLEMS WITH ELECTRONIC VOTING.
Every human enterprise is replete with a good number of flaws, the electronic voting system is not an exception and in the aftermath of the year 2000 presidential elections in the United States, a lot of flaws have been identified in the system and prominent among them as identified by Iwu include:
- Error in the system itself, which could result in system failure.
- Error in voting machine software piracy.
- Tampering with software to alter election results.
- Tampering with ballot modules during transportation from the point manufacture to the point of usage.
- Damage to machines before elections.
Other problems of the electronic voting machines especially to a developing economy like ours include:
- High cost of the machines visa-vz the poor state of the Country’s economy.
- Destruction of the machines by political tugs, which is characteristics of our political experiment.
- Its availability to all polling stations throughout the federation especially due to our poor transportation system.
ELECTRONIC VOTING SYSTEM AND THE NIGERIAN ELECTORAL SYSTEM.
Elections realistically are at the heart of the democratic form of government since it is the most peaceful means of choosing a leader. Nigeria as a democratic nation had since independence in 1960 came up with different electoral processes, which had been bedeviled by irregularities, and it is equally on records that no head ofelectoral body in the country that had not at each point in time not regretted why he accepted such a messed job in Nigeria as their credibility after leaving office had always been in doubt having done a job which they described as a service to their fatherland.
It would be recalled that from the era of Mr. E.E. Esua’s First Republic Electoral Commission of Nigeria in May 1,1964 to January 15,1966, through Chief Michael Ani led Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO) 1976 to 1979 and justice Victor Ovie Whiskey (FEDECO) July 39,1980 to December 31,1983 of the second republic, the story remain the same. The problem of Nigeria’s electoral system worsened with successive military regimes especially as a consequence of inconsistencies, uncertainties and insincerity on the part of the government.
In view of the bad electoral system that Nigeria is operating, it is not out of place to posit that the electronic voting system if introduced into our electoral process cannot be free from manipulations by politicians. This view is buttressed from the various open comments that is being made by many politicians who had more often than not accuse the president of having a hand in its introduction as a way of manipulating the electoral process had the third term agenda worked. The president of Nigerian Labour Congress Adams Oshimole was very vehement in opposing the electronic voting system as he reasoned that it would bring about unprecedented electoral fraud in the country. Others who are equally not too comfortable with the system accuse the electoral commission of bias as the system was only a device to allow incumbents to continue to perpetuate themselves in power.
Another area of contest over the introduction of the electronic voting system borders on the level of literacy of the average Nigerian voter. It is estimated that at least seventy percent of Nigerian electorates are illiterate. With this high level of illiteracy in the country, there is no gain saying the obvious that majority of the voters cannot cope with the technicalities involved in the system. The immediate consequence of this state of event is that many of the electorate will shy away from voting as many interpretations will be given to- the system and system instead of improving upon the percentage of voters would have succeeded in de-enfranchising many of our electorates. Most illiterate voters might be scared that thedevice is another way through which government will enlist for taxpaying. It is no longer news that in Nigeria many of our literate voters do not vote at any election either because of the bad electoral system or due largely to private reasons adduced by many of them.
The security of the peoples’ vote is another area where people are not too comfortable with the electronic voting system. When one remembers with nostalgia what transpired during the 2003 general elections in the country where large scale electoral fraud was experienced, it becomes obvious that the electronic system would worsen the system. An in-depth analysis of the 2003 general elections show clearly that candidates that the people voted en masse never at the end won. This made a lot of apathy to be shown by many electorates especially after results the National Assembly elections where most voters came and voted for candidates of their choice were declared. Equally if a review is made of the professor Eme Awa’s National Electoral commission (NEC) 1987 to February 28 1989, Professor Humphrey Nwosu, March 17,1989 to 1992, professor OkonEdetUya, July 1993 to October 1993; Dr. Dagogo Jack, National Electoral commission of Nigeria (NECON) 1994 tO 1998; Justice Ephraim Akpata’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) of 1998 to 2000 and Dr. Abel Guobadia of May 25, 2000 to May 25, 2005, the common outcry among the citizenry had always been that the managers of our electoral system are not only corrupt but had always done a shoddy job, a good example was the accusation levied against ovie whiskey that he received a bribe of N1 million to sell out victory to the defunct National Party of Nigeria in 1983 when the party won election for a second term in Nigeria. Another celebrated case in point was the Anambra state saga where the peoples’ votes were manipulated to favour Chris Ngige who secured a less number of votes during the gubernatorial elections saves for the Nigerian judiciary who rose to the challenge and restored confidence in the people. The fact remains that if the people’s vote cannot be protected in the present electoral system, the situation will be worse as those who will man these electronic devices used for the elections can be easily bought over by politicians to manipulate the system to their own advantage thereby making the people to loose confidence in the electoral system and even in democracy. If thissystem can be a subject of complaints in an advanced democracy likeUnited States of America during the year 2000 presidential electioncontest between the incumbent George W. Bush and the former vice President Algore, then one wonders what would become of theSystem in our own system that is still developing.
One other area where failure would be experienced in the electronic voting system is in the area of the federal government having the financial capability to procure the needed electronic machines that would be enough for the entire polling stations in the country. It is an established reality in Nigeria political history that electoral commissions over the years has been under funded and taking cognizance of the amount of money that would be involved in procuring the electronic devices, it cast doubt that government at present can muster the financial muscle to release adequate resources to the electoral commission for this purpose. This line argument has equally brought about criticism about the government hidden agenda in this regard. Political pundits have asserted that the government in power will at the end provide the electronic devices in areas where they can have overwhelming victory while areas controlled by the opposition will be left out because it is common that in Nigeria, shortage of election materials is a feature of the country’s electoral process
It is now an established realty that the Nigerian electoral process is replete with a lot of irregularities, a development that had created a lot of distrust in the electoral process. A review of all the procedures adopted as a way of achieving a credible election in the country always end with the same tales of woes. It is in having this in mind that one is always quick to add that any new system introduced should be such that allow for transparency in order to build the peoples’ confidence in the process.
It is common knowledge that a credible electoral process is a sine qua non for a sustainable and enduring democracy in any polity and taking cognizance of the Nigerian situation, there is the dire need for an electoral process that will bring about free and fair elections in the country. In this stead, the following recommendations are made as a way of bringing the much-desired electoral process in the country.
- The electronic voting system be adopted but there should be much education and enlightenment about the system and its workability in a political system like ours where many of the voters are illiterate.
- Individuals with good track records are appointed into the electoral body to avoid developments where almost everybody that had the opportunity to serve the commission usually comes out a disgraced Nigeria.
- The electoral body is funded from the consolidated revenue to guarantee her independence and remove undue government influence on the commission.
- Political parties are given equal representation in the electoral body as a way of eradicating any undue favour to any party by the commission.
- An electoral process should be designed in such a way that elections would be conducted at different levels at particular times instead of the current arrangement where all elections are conducted at the same time leaving members of the commission a long period of idling away without any work a development that had not only brought about inefficiency in the job but made the electoral officials to be corrupt.
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