The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is continuing with its efforts to improve the commission’s deployment of technologies in conducting elections in the country.
The commission on August 6 introduced a dedicated online portal, INEC Result Viewing (IRV), that will enable Nigerians view results from polling units in real-time on election days.
The electoral umpire had last week in Benin, the Edo State capital, said it would deploy a new technology called Z-pad , which will only serve as biometric accreditation using the photographs of voter’s fingerprints.
The Z-pad was deployed at the August 8 Nasarawa central constituency bye-election as a test-run but faced challenges. INEC has, however, explained that tablet cameras would only be used to take photos of the polling unit EC8A result sheets for the Saturday elections.
The INEC national commissioner for voter education, Festus Okoye, had said the commission is determined to address all concerns by voters through enhancing the level of transparency in the conduct of elections, especially in the process of releasing results of elections.
So what’s new?
The real-time posting of the election results, as stated by INEC, simply entails posting and uploading photographs of the EC8A/EC8A(VP), EC60, 40H forms results in PDF versions from polling units of a particular election held in a given state.
For instance, if it were the general elections, the IVR would contain the results coming from all the 119,973 polling units and 57,000 voting points across the country. The same would happen for other off-circle elections and subsequent bye-elections that would be conducted by INEC.
At the close of voting at a particular polling unit, the presiding officer sorts and counts the ballots and records the votes of candidates in both figures and words in the appropriate forms EC60E, EC8A, EC 40H(I).
The EC60E, which is a poster version of the primary result sheet, and is posted at polling units for the general public to view is mandatory and failure to do so may amount to dereliction of duty.
The forms EC8A, are handed over to party agents and security personnel, and other election monitors at a polling unit. And the EC 40H(I) are for information and statistics for persons with disabilities.
Despite this commendable innovation established by INEC in introducing the IVR, the scheme, however, lacks an in-depth live score platform that could be easily assessed by the average Nigerian at the tip of their fingers.
This is perhaps because the commission wants to distance itself from the perception of conducting electronic collation of results.
INEC had also emphasised that the collation process of results shall remain a manual process as provided by law.
The innovation was piloted during the Nasarawa central state constituency bye-election held in Nasarawa State last month. And it is expected to be used during the Saturday’s Edo governorship elections as well as subsequent elections such as the October 10 Ondo governorship elections.
However, an electoral expert and director of YIAGA Africa, Samson Itodo, speaking with PREMIUM TIMES, in a phone interview, urged INEC to improve in terms of speed of uploading the results in real-time.
“I would have to commend INEC for the fantastic innovation; it would deepen the integrity of the election collation process because it grants public access to results.
“Because results management has always been shrouded in secrecy, so any attempts by the electoral commission to introduce the IRV, it’s a welcome development. It shows that the commission is responsive
“It would be important to underscore YAIGA Africa findings from the Nasarawa bye-elections because we observed that election part of what we found out in respect to the timing for the results, the first results were uploaded at about 4:25 p.m. while the last result came in at about 10:30 p.m.
“What that tells us is that the election was held in just 44 polling units. And in Edo State elections would be conducted in over 2,000 polling units, so that portal has the capacity to carry out all photo forms of EC8A from the field.”
Mr Itodo also said some of the results uploaded on the portal were not signed by the presiding officer. He said such could mar the integrity that INEC intends to promote.
“It is important that INEC calls upon all the presiding officers to sign the results and only the final result after they have appended their signatures as presiding officers are the images that should be taken and not results that are not signed. It also raises the integrity of the result itself,” he added.
The Z-Pad platform
Since the electoral commission has admitted the challenges it encountered in administering the Z-pad platform in the Nasarawa bye-election, an electoral expert, Idayat Hassan, director of the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), in a phone interview with PREMIUM TIMES, said, “While technology is very good, what we have also learnt from another part of the world is that technology is another vulnerable element in elections, so it is not like the solution.”
Ms Idayat further said, “Securing our elections, of course, technology is good to add to the authenticity but we must also change the nature of politics itself.”
When PREMIUM TIMES contacted the INEC national commissioner for voter education, Festus Okoye, he assured that the commission would continue to work on the robustness of the Z-pad platform for a future election.
“We are going to use the Z-pad in Edo State for the purposes of uploading a polling unit results, that’s the EC8A, into a central portal for public viewing.
“We will not deploy that for any other purposes other than that,” Mr Okoye said.
“For Nasarawa central state constituency election, we deployed it as a secondary authentication submission to the smart card reader but we had a few challenges with it and we feel that we need to do additional work on it in terms of capturing the facials of voters and also aligning it to function together with the smart card readers.
“So we said it was not robust enough for a contentious election like the Edo State governorship election.
“So we are still working on it and when we are sure of its robustness, we will now deploy it. But for the purposes of the Edo election, the Z-pad would only be deployed for the purposes of snapping form EC8A and uploading that particular form into the INEC viewing portal,” he concluded.