Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Nigeria on its way to e-voting

Source: Flickr - Ford Fundation

Nigeria has a lengthy history of flawed elections and has often been at the brunt of jokes about the voting process. In fact, the 2011 national elections in Nigeria were marked by accusations of fraud, court challenges and violence that resulted in hundreds of deaths and thousands of people being displaced from their homes before military intervention put an end to the looting, burning and bombings. No doubt, it is well past time to put an accurate system in place to curb the violence and count all of the people's votes!  

This most recent election seemed clearly decisive as the winner, Goodluck Jonathan, received 58% of the vote. However, irregularities like stolen ballot boxes and fake ballots were widespread; this drove further wedges into the country, separating sectional interests like the Muslim north and the Christian south, as each group suspected the other of tampering with the votes. The Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) has said that electronic voting needs to be in place for the 2015 national elections, as it offers a more accurate and transparent method for counting the votes of the people.

In an attempt to move toward more accurate and peaceful elections that the people will have confidence in, on July 23rd the House of Representatives attempted to vote via electronic device about some constitutional changes that were being considered.

Each member received an iPad to be used as an electronic voting device intended to register the votes of each individual lawmaker. Because this system allowed each vote to become public knowledge, it was expected that legislators would strictly follow their constituent's wishes that were made known during the Peoples Public Sessions around the country--when all of the glitches were worked out of the computerized program.Vanguard reported that if the voting process did not seem transparent, it would ruin the efforts of this seventh assembly.

Problems arose with the new electronic voting system that was installed by Nigerian Communications Satellite Limited (NigComSat) as it appeared many of the lawmakers had difficulties with the voting devices, causing the speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal to make a public plea for patience, saying “what is worth doing is worth doing well.” and promising that “they would do everything transparently.”

In the end, the legislators resorted to the old method of manual voting. There were challenges because the voting procedures were lengthy and some of the lawmakers had not fully charged their devices, or familiarized themselves with their use. However, this exercise does show that Nigeria is serious about moving forward with new technologies that promise maximum accuracy and transparency in the voting process, and there is time before the 2015 national elections to get all the bugs worked out. After all, automation will only improve election administration, transparency and avoid violence if, and only if, the execution is flawless and results are deemed legitimate. Maybe Nigeria should find an experienced provider with advanced, verifiable technology to accomplish this.