INEC and modern technology

INEC as an institution with the responsibility of organizing elections for over seventy million registered voters must endeavour to continually improve its administrative skills through the use of modern technology. No administrative institution, including INEC can remain relevant, competent, efficient and effective without applying modern technology in its operation.

Technology can be applied in the three major phases of election: pre-election, election day and post-election. INEC can learn from some countries which have successfully applied technology to election management. For example, India with a voting population of over 8 million has successfully applied technology in the election into Lok Sabha in all the 543 parliamentary constituencies and 27 states and 7 union territories. Electronic voting machines were introduced as far back as 1982 when it was experimented in the Legislative Assembly in the State of Kerala. The launching of the website by the Election Commission in 1998 provided the infrastructure for the computerization of register of voters.

Technology has been introduced for voters’ data management; bulk SMS to voters, Cast Wise Segregation.  The latest innovation was the introduction   in 2013 of Communication Plan For Election (COMET), an SMS based alert system aimed at sending messages to officials on election duty, provide information about scheduled events, like distribution of election materials, time electoral materials and staff reach polling stations, polling staff, end of polls, collation, tabulation and announcement of results.

Data generated are distributed to major stakeholders like the Election Commission, political parties, media, election observers and security agencies. South African Election Commission has a similar organization controlled from Election Center in Pretoria.

As Nigeria prepares for the 2015 election, INEC can send staff to India to study the role of technology in election management in the on-going election into the 16th Lok Sabha which is being held between April 07 to May 12 in nine phases.

Nigeria has started the process of modernizing the electoral process. The huge investment into the electronic voters register by both the Iwu and Jega Commissions is yet to yield full dividend as the last gubernatorial elections in Anambra State has showed that election riggers are always one step ahead of INEC. The lack of integrity of some INEC staff has adversely affected the credibility of the exercise. It will be difficult to modernize the electoral process in a corrupt environment where election competition is viewed as a ‘do or die’ struggle and politicians believed that the end justifies the means. This is the reason politicians are against the Electronic Voting Machines as all efforts to get the National Assembly pass the enabling legal backing has not been successful. Electronic voters register is meaningless without Electronic Voting Machines.

The struggle for the EVMs is one in which INEC must fight to logical conclusion if it is to enhance its transparency. One way of pushing the struggle is to get the National Assembly to legalize the use of EVMs in the re-run and bye-elections. This can serve as a learning process which can convince members of the National Assembly on the desirability of the system. INEC should use the opportunity in the ongoing amendment of the Constitution to convince the National Assembly to pass the enabling Act.

As mentioned from the foregoing, the application of ICT is a pre-requisite for the modernization of INEC. A good infrastructure is necessary for such transformation. The use of Election Institute as the venue for announcement of result should be reviewed and a proper Election Centre modeled on that of South Africa should be established.

The South African Election Centre is like Silicon Valley (Electronic Engineering City) aimed at promoting transparency of election. The Independent Electoral Commission of South Africa re-locates to the Centre during the period of every major election. The lower floor of the complex is where the giant screen which displays results is located; it also housed the technical staff and their equipments and offices of the major political parties. The second floor house, the offices of IEC, local and international media and restaurants.

Results from polling stations are forwarded directly through SMS and distributed to political parties and the media.
The success of elections in South Africa and India has largely been due to the application of technology. Nigeria with 120 million people with cell phone should have no problem in using it in the electoral process. The ball is in the court of INEC which can choose to remain an analogue island surrounded with digital empires. INEC as a matter of necessity and agency must endeavour to be part of the technological revolution in election management process.

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