Ahead of Nigeria’s 2015 general elections, I traveled to Nigeria to witness the preparations for the vote and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems’ (IFES) support for this vitally important electoral process. IFES has been engaged with Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) since 1999, providing an array of technical assistance to support the country’s electoral and political processes. There are several important developments that have been implemented by the INEC, with support from IFES, in the lead up to the 2015 general elections.
Electoral Dispute Resolution
The Honorable Justice Zainab Adamu Bulkachuwa is the first woman to be President of the Court of Appeals of Nigeria. Under her leadership, and with IFES support, the Court of Appeals has designated, trained and deployed over 250 Elections Petition Tribunal Judges across the country in anticipation of complaints concerning the election results. These Judges are dispatched away from their home jurisdictions, taking away the press of their dockets, in order to resolve election disputes as quickly as possible. In the past, election complaints often took years to resolve. Sometimes people held elected office and were then removed when the electoral dispute was resolved by the courts. In 2015, the goal is to provide a committed judicial focus to resolving disputes arising from the election. This effort is another positive step forward to support the rule of law and acceptance of the voters’ choices in Nigeria.
In today’s world, many people turn to the internet as their primary source of information. A website can serve as a medium for providing the most up-to-date and accurate information. However, there are a host of issues to consider in countries like Nigeria, such as literacy levels and even things we take for granted like electricity. In Nigeria, particularly outside of the major cities, these issues cause challenges to providing critical election information. INEC has made a major investment in providing transparent information with its website. While this is undoubtedly an important step forward, there are many citizens in Nigeria who will not be able to access this information. In such environments, civic and voter education often happens through more traditional forms like print media, billboards, radio and television.
After the polls close on Election Day and the votes are tallied in all 119,971 polling units, results will be scanned and uploaded to the INEC website, providing immediate transparency. Demand for information from all electoral stakeholders has increased at a rapid rate. While there are concerns that the INEC website will not be able to handle a massive uptick in traffic, there is no simple solution. Budgetary constraints will always be a factor in the development and maintenance of a website. Nonetheless, INEC has made major strides in providing an outlet for the fast and efficient access to electoral information.
There is probably no decision that garners more suspicion in the electoral process than the introduction of new technology. The goals behind the new technology are usually the same: better voter identification systems; faster voting and faster, more reliable counting, and transmission of results; and improved accountability and transparency of the entire electoral process. In Africa, many election management bodies have worked to answer the concerns of their respective political classes and the voters by introducing new technologies. There has also been a parallel effort to remove people – especially partisans – away from the electoral process and to rely more on technology.
While new technologies can improve the credibility and transparency of the vote, there is also a limit to how many new technologies and processes can be simultaneously introduced during an election. In Kenya in 2013, eight different new technologies and processes were introduced, causing significant issues during the election. In April 2014, the Washington, D.C. Elections Board attempted to introduce several new system improvements for a primary election and the count was seriously delayed.
There will be two new technologies introduced for Nigeria’s general elections. A new Permanent Voter’s Card (PVC), which is far more advanced than anything used in the United States, will be used for the first time. The PVCs contain voters’ biometric information in an embedded microchip and replace the Temporary Voter’s Card that was used in the 2011 general elections. Electronic card readers with fingerprint scanners will also be used to accredit voters for the first time in the 2015 general elections. The electronic card readers will verify that the presented PVCs are legitimate and that the voter presenting the card is registered at that polling unit. The card readers will also display a picture of the voter so that poll workers can visually confirm the identity of the voter against the card, and allow for scanning of fingerprints to check the voter’s fingerprints against the biometric information contained in the PVC.
There has been political pressures on the INEC to simultaneously abandon the investments made in technology as well as introduce other technologies to reduce the role of people in the election process. It will be a major improvement in the credibility of the electoral process if the new technologies perform to expectations. The INEC has wisely decided two new major technologies are enough for one election.
An aspect of election management that always stuns me is the sheer number of people involved in administering the vote. In Lagos State, there are 8,462 polling units. In each polling station, there are supposed to be four polling officials accompanied by two to three unarmed police officers supplemented by military security. Across the country, it is expected that more than 800,000 people will be working in some official capacity at a polling station on Election Day and that does not even account for political party representatives, international and domestic observers or security. IFES has provided a significant level of support to the INEC in planning for the organization of so much personnel as well as training poll workers.