Thursday, November 26, 2015

Technological challenges lie ahead of Nigeria's 2019 election

In order for a country to move forward with progressive change that is beneficial for all its citizens, it must first establish a democratic process that is fair, secure and respected. This is particularly challenging for countries in transition, especially where a fair and open democracy is still a relatively novel concept in the shadow of previously unjust regimes.

A prime example of these circumstances is happening right now in the African country of Nigeria. Even though the federal elections were held just earlier this year, electing Muhammadu Buhari as the new President, the electoral commission and other governmental organizations are already looking ahead to the next election scheduled to take place in 2019.

Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Acting Chairperson Mrs. Amina Zakari has indicated that the commission “is ready to implement what is contemplated in the law.” More specifically, she says that Nigeria is technologically ready to move forward with e-voting as soon as the impediment of the law has been alleviated. The next major step required is to pass laws in Nigeria that allow for the widespread adoption of electronic voting technology for the 2019 elections.

To this end, INEC has partnered with the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) in an effort to deploy high technology in what should be a very robust election in four years’ time. The announcement of this collaboration comes ahead of an annual e-governance conference in mid-November, called eNigeria, where discussions will be held in regards to applying technological solutions in the 2019 general election, as well as to how to improve the electoral system in the nation as a whole.

It would not be prudent for Nigeria to hurl itself into full deployment of e-voting throughout its democratic process without first performing some due diligence. Indeed, while Nigeria did make use of biometric technology in its general election earlier this year, the fingerprint identification system was marred with problematic challenges. Once again, this further illustrates the incredible importance of two key issues.

First, the electoral commission of Nigeria must be careful in selecting the right providers for its e-voting equipment and infrastructure. This includes not only the hardware for voter authentication and digital ballots, possibly with the inclusion of a voter-verifiable paper trail, but also for the systems in place to manage these machines. A reputable vendor will have a proven track record in running elections of at least this size and magnitude.

Second, and this point is intimately intertwined with the first, the full election process must be open to scrutiny and testing through a robust series of audits. The audits must be in place through an impartial third party throughout the election, as well as both before and after the ballots are cast. The e-voting machines must be audited thoroughly. This way, any challenges or shortcomings will be suitably addressed before they become more widespread.

The integrity of the election results, and thus the public perception and acceptance of the election results, depends heavily on the reliability and security of the infrastructure used. Nigeria needs free, fair and open elections and the use of technology could pave the road. Nigeria is ready to adopt e-voting for its 2019 national elections and the pace is quickening with each passing day. Even before laws are passed to allow for e-voting on a national scale, INEC is prepared to move forward with agencies to develop the legal framework needed and to update its own internal processes.