Is Nigeria not ripe for electronic voting? Electronic voting is a unique process.

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The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has reiterated its readiness for the adoption of electronic voting system for future polls.

Many Nigerians believe that the country is ripe for electronic voting. Ahead of 2023 elections, stakeholders are of the view that its adoption will enable Nigerian polls to conform to internationally acceptable best practice.

Advocates of electronic voting believe that it will also serve as a panacea for malpractices. They premise their argument on the success of the biometric measures adopted by finger prints experts to establish rigging in Ekiti and Osun states at the 2007 polls. Their contention is that if technology is employed to unravel rigging, technological device can also be used to avert it at the polling  booths because prevention is better than cure.

However, some politicians and political parties are cautious. They warned against jumping from the frying pan to fire. They submitted that e-voting had not totally insulated many countries from electoral fraud, pointing out that computer can also be manipulated to do the bidding of master riggers.

Thus, in 2006, when former INEC chairman Prof. Maurice Iwu casually proposed electronic voting for the 2007 elections, it was greeted with wild criticisms. The socio- cultural groups that rejected the method cited the low literacy level and lack of time to really ascertain its worth, feasibility and workability.

In fact, former Afenifere Publicity Secretary,  Yinka Odumakin, alleged that Iwu had a hidden agenda. He described e-voting as another mechanism that could cripple the electoral process, stressing that the voting procedure required some sorts of sophistication, training and skill.

Also, at that time, the Senate rejected the proposed scheme. When electoral officers stormed the hallowed chambers to explain its viability, the senators said they were not convinced. However, some of them acknowledged that the country may fall back to it in the future.

Ahead of 2015 elections, former INEC boss Prof. Attahuru Jega said e-voting was desirable. But, his efforts were restricted to the production of a permanent voter register, which was embedded in electronic chips on cards. Each card, said Jega, would carry all the information about the voter, his or her biometric data, including finger prints and photograph.

Since 1964, elections have been problematic in Nigeria. Ballot boxes have often developed wings and losers declared as winners by the electoral commission. When those boxes resurfaced, they were stuffed with multiple thumb-printed papers. Violence erupted in the Southwest in the First Republic over rigging. In 1983, old Oyo and Ondo states were also engulfed with violence due to malpractices.

To maintain a clean break from the past, the National Electoral Commission (NEC) chairman, Prof. Humphrey Nwosu, introduced the open ballot system in the Third Republic. It was derided as a crude method, although it served as an antidote to rigging. However, there was an impediment. Once physical counting of voters on the queue was completed, voting would close and late comers disenfranchised.

The 1999 election was fair. The 2003 contest was bad. The 2007 poll was worse. After the exercise, litigation flooded the tribunals. In the court, finger print analysis was employed to prove massive rigging. Since then, observers reasoned that there would be a progression to technologically based electoral system.

But, consideration for feasibility of deployment of technology cannot be done in isolation of the constitutional imperatives. Although the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) may be ready for the paradigm shift, it cannot be accomplished without the completion of the Electoral Act amendment by the National Assembly.

INEC’s readiness without a legal backing is futile. Therefore, analysts believe that if Nigerians truly desire electronic voting, they should impress it on the National Assembly to give it the required legal backing. In recent past, the court even ruled that the Electoral Act never recognised card readers.

Electronic voting is a unique process. For example, the Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting machines, commonly used in Western countries, have proved to be efficacious.

The “21 Touch Screen Voting System” offers a contest-by-contest and multiple contest (one contest per page) display of ballots and a cut-and-drop paper record printer for voters to verify their selections.

Also, the 21 ultra-high resolution touch-screen voting system displays contests, page by page, showing parties per page during the voting process. Specific contests may be expanded into larger font on demand by each voter. The model also accommodates alternate languages to English (e.g. Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba and other  languages used in the Nigeria).

According to experts, it takes care of the special population. It provides accessibility to blind voters and others with physical disabilities through the use of voice assistance in any ballot language and an accessible keyboard, having raised the tactile functional keys, Sip-and-Puff, and other switches.

The method of voting can eliminate unintentional under-votes, requiring a positive confirmation of any under-vote by voters. It may guarantee ease of vote tabulating and counting. Indeed, DRE systems can make vote counting and result tabulation faster and more accurate.

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The technology can reduce the difficulties of choice by voters by  making spoiled ballots impossible and unintentionally blank ballots difficult. It can minimize “lost” votes in a variety of ways.

Another merit of the system is fraud orevention as DRE can combat or even prevent fraud.

It is also cost-effective as the technology can reduce the cost of election administration. The initial investment costs are recouped by eliminating ballot paper printing and  Polling Units Result Sheet printing.

Generally, electronic voting is more cost-effective in the long run due to decrease in expenses over time.   The initial costs for digital voting may be high due to the high upfront cost of installation, which would abate in the long run, although the initial expenditure would be much larger than paper voting. The costs cover the voting machines, maintenance and installation, testing the infrastructure, and securing the premises.

Using the procedure,  there may be no need for cubicles and ballot boxes.

In terms of durability, the EVM can be used for up to three or four general election cycles.

It should be noted that paper votes will require assistants who count and transport votes, which can add up as collation stations around the country tally up the results. These expenses may constitute a major strain. But, with e-balloting, only the result sheet is taking to the collation centre.

The baseline for electronic voting is enlightment of the public on the need for acceptance of technology and adjustment to the innovation. Training is necessary. It may not be difficult for a huge population that now uses modern communication tools, including handsets and ATM cards.

Despite concerns about electronic voting machines, companies continue to develop them and countries continue to adopt them at amazing speed. Therefore, the crusade for its use should focus on its potential benefits and influence on participating political parties, candidates and the electorate.

With the passage of time, voters can gain a better voting experience at the polls, thereby boosting their confidence that technology will make their votes count.

Civil society groups have argued that electronic voting may increase voter turnout and renewal of interest in the democratic process.

Apart from the ease of voting,  there is the possibility for increased efficiency.  With Electronic Voting Machines, voters can submit their votes while the votes are counted with speed. Also, theNew Electronic Voting Machines can also stop voters from common election faults, such as picking too many or no candidates,  thereby increasing the general effectiveness of voting.

An expert, Lorrie Faith Cranor, an Associate Research Professor in Computer Science, Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University, said: “Eventually, electronic voting may be a viable solution to increasing voter participation in governmental elections.” He alluded to the the potential benefits of increased voter participation, increased accessibility, decreased cost, decreased difficulty, and vote protection.

Electronic voting may constantly  reduce fraud by eliminating the opportunity for ballot tampering.  Paper ballots can be directly printed by the balloting machine and dropped in the sealed box for transparency and as a backup, if  a recount would be necessity.

An expert, Michael Shamos of Carnegie Mellon University, who is in favor of electronic voting, but ardently against paper machines, said: “Paper voting records have shown themselves for the past 250 years to be horribly insecure and easy to manipulate. In practice, they have so many flaws that they are as bad as punched-card voting at its worst.”

However, if paper ballots are eliminated, there is the possibility of distorting them as a means of election deception. Remarkabky, some countries, including Brazil, are in favour of integrating paper printouts into the voting process.

Lagos Lawyer, Monday Ubani, said the innovation should be put into practice. He acknowledged that people often resisted change. He also said there is no new idea that does not have merits and do merits.

Ubani added: “We need the will and commitment of the government and the corresponding interest of the people to make it happen. We should fix power. Not every area is covered by network provided by service providers. It can be an inhibition. But, we should put electronic voting into practice.”

Experience of western countries has shown that the success of electronic depends on the ability of the Electronic Voting Machines to function in accordance with the needs and preferences of the voting constituency or district.

In 1977, Costa Rican Government had asked “AT and T” Laboratory Research Company,  where Robin worked, to design an e-voting system.  But, during meetings between the company experts and government, the latter developed a cold feet because they perceived the procedure as a sufficient threat from security.

In the opinion of stakeholders, many factors should be considered before introducing the mechanism. They suggested that it should be “piloted” and “localised”. Accirding to them, government should not import abandoned and outdated technology from Brazil or China and flood the polling booths with them without knowing the working processes of the machine.

According to experts, some of the greatest features of Electronic Voting Machines may still come with developments in software and mechanical functionality, especially those that would ensure accuracy, privacy and verifiability.

But, the darkside of electronic voting is that it can be compromised,  if only it is online and internet based. The biggest disadvantage of an electronic voting machine is election hacking.

As with any electronic device, there is always the risk that someone could illegally alter the results of an election. This could be done either through physical tampering or a remote attack over the internet. But, stand alone balloting machine at the polling station not connected to internet or any local area network cannot be hacked.

Besides, the fear of failure among antagonists of the technological model is fuelled by its abysmal performance in other climes. To them, this is food fir thought. For example, the adoption of e-voting generated controversy at a time in California, United States. The government had harsh words for the voting machine maker, Diebold Election Systems, for committing fraud. Decrying the faulty machines in United States, California Government Secretary Kelvin Shelly said: “California government and voters would not tolerate deceitful tactics as engaged in Diehold System and we must send a clear and compelling message to the rest of the industry.”

Also, at a time, Maryland State resisted the continuation of the electronic voting process, citing its unreliability and susceptibility to hacking as reason. Voters even threatened to file court actions to stop its use. They were enraged by the obvious flaws in the presidential contest between President George Bush (Jr) and Vice President Al Gore.

There was outcry in Columbus, Ohio State, where an e-voting system error allegedly gave Bush 3,892 extra votes in the 2000 election. There was an emotional outburst in Gahanna Precinct where only 638 voters cast ballot and Bush scored 4,258 votes as against Kerry’s 260. In another part of California, over 4,500 votes were lost in the election between polling officials mistakenly believed that a computer that stored ballot electronically could hold more data than it did.

There were more startling revelations. A researcher, Bev Harris, who focused his study on the efficacy of the “strange method,” found out that clever technical experts could manipulate the voting machines, thereby casting doubt on its integrity. He said when he clicked for a file transfer protocol site belonging to Diebold System, he found about 40,000 unprotected computer sites for its “Global Election Management Tabulation Software, a Texts Voter Registration List with voters’ names and a semblance of live vote data from 57 precincts in a 2002 California primary.

According to the finding, the California file was time-stamped 3:30pm on election day, indicating that the manufacturer, Diehold System, may have obtained the data during voting. To Harris, this is strange because polling precincts are not supposed to release votes until after the close of poll at 8pm. In addition, the researcher discovered that an expert could enter the vote database, using Micro Access, and bungle the election by changing results without leaving a trace.

Since the manufacturer did not have a password file or secured audit log, anyone with access to the tabulation programme during election, including Diehold System employees, election officers and hackers, could change votes and alter the log to erase the evidence, if the systems are connected to a phone line.

Electoral officers were actually scandalised in Scurry, Texts, in 2002, when to Republican Commissioners won landslide victories on the “ES and S” optical scan machines. When the anxious officers counted the ballot twice by hand, it was found out that the Democrats opponents actually won the election.

Other technical experts, including Technical Director of John Hopkins University doctoral students-Tosh Kohno and Adam Stubblied- and Computer Service Professor Dan Wallace, also highlighted the hiccups associated with electronic voting. They believed that unauthorised privileged escalation, incorrect use if cryptography, vulnerability to network threats and poor software development are challenges.

According to the researchers,  e-voting relies on a smar card lisp to ensure that each person casts only one ballot on a dire IT recording electronic voting system. It is possible for a person to create a specially programmed smart card and surreptitiously use it in the voting booth to cast multiple ballots. They feared that a 15 year old computer enthusiastic may make these counterfeit cards in a garage and sell them.

Robin said:”Even, an ordinary voter, without knowing anything about computer code, could cast more than one vote for a candidate at a polling place that uses the electronic voting system,” adding that “if attackers gained access to the link system between the machines and the backend services, they could stir more mischief.”

Collaborating this, his co-researcher, Kohno, added:”I clicked on George Bush and it was already counted for Al Gore and I clicked Al Gore and it was really counted for George Bush.”

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