Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has revealed that it will pilot the use of Electronic Voting Machines at the earliest possible time and work towards its full introduction in major elections starting from 2021 due to the challenges Coronavirus pandemic has posed on the conduct of elections in Nigeria.
Although the commission specifically emphasised in the ‘Policy on conducting elections in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic’ released on Monday, however, it looks obvious it would deploy full scale use of e-voting during Anambra state governorship election, which is one of the major election coming up next year.
Worried by the rising cost of conducting frequent bye-elections, especially in consideration of the Supreme Court position that votes belong primarily to political parties, the Commission promised to engage with the legislature and other stakeholders to explore ways of responding to it.
In the policy signed by the electoral umpire chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, the commission further noted that as part of the measure to mitigate the dangers of conducting elections during the pandemic, it will deploy several health procedures before, during and after conduct of any election.
On the involvement of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and voter registration, it noted: “The Commission recognizes the critical role that ICT will play in an electoral process vastly reshaped by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the growing demands by Nigerians for the deepening of the use of technology in our elections.
“Consequently, the Commission shall continue to apply relevant, value-for-money technology in all aspects of the electoral process and election management. Regularly validate and clean up the biometric Register of Voters by removing multiple registrants and deceased persons. Suspend the Continuous Registration of Voters (CVR) for the time being to prevent the health risks associated with it in the context of COVID-19.
“Continue to make available its electronic channels for voters to check their registration status. Pilot the use of Electronic Voting Machines at the earliest possible time (not Edo and Ondo), but work towards the full introduction of electronic voting in major elections starting from 2021,” it noted.
On legal issues of conducting election under the pandemic, the commission said: “As already announced, the dates for the governorship elections in Edo and Ondo States remain September 19, 2020 and October 10, 2020, respectively. Dates for the four postponed bye-elections in Bayelsa, Imo and Plateau States, as well as other bye-elections that become due during the COVID-19 pandemic will be announced by the Commission following its established procedures.
“The Commission will engage with the legislature and other stakeholders to explore ways of responding to the rising cost of conducting frequent bye-elections, especially in consideration of the Supreme Court position that votes belong primarily to political parties, as well as the Commission’s records, which show that only in 10 per cent of all bye-elections since 2015 did the party that won originally lose the election.
“The Commission will engage relevant authorities, including the legislature, to designate election as an essential service to enable the Commission function effectively in times of national emergency,” it emphasised.
Commenting on the health measure to be adopted, the electoral umpire noted: “The most immediate challenge that COVID-19 poses to the electoral process is health related. In order to protect voters, election officials and other stakeholders in the electoral process, the Commission shall implement the following:
“General Protective Measures, infrared thermometers will be supplied and used at the Registration Area Collation Centres, the Local Government Area Collation Centres and the State Collation Centres. The use of face masks is mandatory for all involved in the election process and must be worn at all election locations.
“The Commission shall provide face masks for all election officials. Alcohol based hand sanitizers will be provided for election officials at the polling units. Methylated Spirit and cotton wool will be provided for the disinfection of the Smart Card Readers (SCRs) after the fingerprint of each voter is read. The rules of physical distancing shall be enforced at all election activities including stakeholder engagements, training, queuing at Polling Units, etc.
“All protocols issued by the NCDC, Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, State Committees on COVID-19 and other relevant health authorities shall be observed by election officials and all stakeholders. The Commission shall work with the PTF and health authorities to have in place a system of voluntary COVID-19 testing for INEC staff before and after deploying for elections.
“For voters and election officials showing symptoms of COVID–19, the Commission shall work with the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 and health authorities in the States having elections to develop a protocol for dealing with persons who show symptoms of COVID-19 at election venues.
“Where an election official, a voter or any other person present at an election venue shows symptoms of COVID-19, the prevailing protocol shall be observed; the person must be isolated from other persons at the venue; the attention of the security personnel should be drawn; the dedicated number for COVID–19 emergencies shall be called; and if the affected person is an election official, the Commission must be notified through the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC),” it announced.