Since 1998, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) has been engaged with the Nigerian Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in a remarkable partnership. In many countries, IFES provides an array of technical assistance – from long-term strategic planning years ahead of an election down to poll worker training in the immediate lead up to a vote. Along the way, IFES has become known as dogged implementer of lessons learned, particularly when it comes to the infrastructure and foundations of election management and providing technical expertise to transitional democracies. With over 68 million registered voters; a large contingent of internally displaced persons; and thousands of candidates squaring off for some 1,500 seats, the March general elections will be a challenging endeavor for Africa's largest democracy and largest economy. As Nigeria prepares for its complex and important 2015 general elections, IFES and the INEC have closely collaborated to ensure the credibility of and trust in the vote.
Some of IFES’ real achievements in Nigeria are invisible to most voters but will guide the election process for years to come. There are 119,971 polling units recognized on the INEC’s database. Largely due to politics, this number has remained approximately the same for over a decade. Urbanization and population growth have led to polling units with far too many registered voters. Eventually, additional voting points were established within polling units at schools or public buildings to reduce lengthy voter queues, with the results of those voting points tallied together to give polling unit level results then transmitted to and tallied with an already existing polling station. In an effort to help INEC map out and manage the voting points and polling unit data in detail, Archie Delaney, an IFES GIS and Data Management Specialist who worked for Liberia’s National Elections Commission, has been working with the INEC since July 2014 to create one database for all locations reporting election results. While the work put into this process will not pay conspicuous dividends to your everyday voter, such a database is foundational component of any successful election. Indeed, one database of all polling locations trusted by all electoral stakeholders mitigates tensions in the preparations before the election and in dispute resolution efforts after it.
Ballot design is another example of the successful partnership between IFES and INEC. For Nigeria’s 2015 general elections, there are 28 registered political parties. The placement of these parties’ logos and candidates on the ballot is a complicated – and often controversial – process involving dialogue among various electoral stakeholders. Sometimes this dialogue can break down over ballot graphics. But, ballot design is essential, as poor or confusing design can result in the voter’s intent not being accurately reflected. Think about the confusion caused by arguably the most famous example of poor ballot design: the Palm Beach County, Florida ballot for the 2000 U.S. presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore. INEC trusted IFES to support this vital process, and we sent IFES Consultant Sandi Causevic from Bosnia to assist with the ballot design.
Ultimately, accessible information is the key to trust in elections. Databases and voter registration lists need to be constantly updated to ensure trust in the electoral process. Although having adequate resources to ensure that election information is accurate and up-to-date is always a challenge, the larger challenge lies in the capacity of the electoral and political process to ensure that information is accurate despite its potential effects on the distribution of power.