The light at the end of the tunnel for electoral reforms in the country has begun to beam as the government has finally signed into law the long-awaited electoral amendment bill, bringing hope and excitement to everyone, including the tech ecosystem.
The newly signed Electoral Amendment Bill of 2022 is an amendment of the Electoral Act of 2010 and is intended to assist Nigeria in improving its electoral process in comparison to previous elections.
The electoral bill, which had been awaiting approval from President Muhammadu Buhari since 2015, has now been signed into law, ending the president’s 7-year longstanding refusal to sign the bill into law.
With the launch of the new milestone in electoral reforms in the country, there are a number of exciting opportunities it presents, particularly with regard to technology.
Electronic transmission of results
Transmission of results electronically has been one of the central subjects of electoral discussions in recent times, with INEC and the Nigerian Senate seen to disagree repeatedly over this single subject.
The senate had in July 2021 restricted the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from electronically transmitting results as intended, citing Section 50(2) of the Electoral Act, which completely outlaws transmission of votes by electronic means.
“Voting at an election under this Bill shall be in accordance with the procedures determined by the commission, which may include electronic voting, provided that the commission shall not transmit results of the election by electronic means,” the Act reads.
In October, after a series of backlashes, the Senate then bowed to pressure and gave the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) the sole power to determine the mode of transmission of results.
However, the matter of electronic transmissions is now laid to rest as clause 50 of the newly passed electoral bill now states that INEC has the power to decide whether election results are submitted electronically or manually.
This announcement would hopefully restore Nigerians’ confidence that the electoral commission can conduct elections without the interference of the National assembly and other bodies.
Electronic accreditation of voters
While this action is already in place, Clause 47 of the newly passed electoral bill also emphasizes INEC’s authority to certify voters electronically using Smart Card Readers or other technical equipment as it so desires.
INEC began the process of implementing electronic voting in Nigeria in 2004 using optical map registration forms and direct data collection machines.
The application of these technologies was then broadened, culminating in the Smart Card Reader (SCR) and Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs).
The commission went further to announce that it would use the Bimodal Voter Accreditation Device (BVAD) to record voters’ faces and fingerprints for the governorship election in Anambra in 2021, even though the announcement at that time was met with a barrage of criticism.
The Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, according to the commission, will integrate two types of voter verification: fingerprint and facial biometrics for voter identification verification.
The newly signed bill will provide the commission with the autonomy it requires to develop a framework to address pending issues of electronic accreditation in the country.
Inclusion of persons with disabilities
A long-recurring electoral concern has been how to include people with disabilities in the electoral process within the country, but that is about to change with the provision contained in the newly passed law.
As stipulated in Clause 54(2) of the newly signed Electoral Amendment Bill of 2022, INEC must ensure that people with disabilities, special needs, and vulnerable people are assisted at polling places by providing appropriate communication devices.
This might include technical support, such as Braille, large embossed print, electronic devices, sign language interpretation, or, in appropriate cases, off-site voting.
All eyes are on the Independent Electoral Commission as Nigerians watch keenly to see how these new provisions are implemented, starting with the gubernatorial elections holding in the coming months.
Hopefully, the commitment of this administration to leaving a legacy of robust election processes is not a mere dream, as many observers believe.
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