The planned electronic transmission of election results by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is a good idea, provided that the integrity of the electronic system is not compromised by unscrupulous elements. The innovation is part of the commission’s plan to improve the credibility of our electoral system.
We welcome this plan and any other effort that can boost the reliability of our electoral process. However, there is need for cautious optimism until the electronic transmission is tried and perfected. The allegation of hacking into the US voter systems during the 2016 presidential poll is still fresh in our minds and its lesson should not be lost on us.
In view of the American experience with hacking, INEC must put far-reaching measures in place to prevent any tampering with election results during the transmission process. We say this because tampering with the results will negate the essence of this initiative and erode confidence in the system.
The electoral body must assure Nigerians that there will be no interference in the system by either internal or external bodies. Only genuine results that reflect the actual voting figures should be transmitted through the INEC voter systems.
The INEC boss, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, who visited the Executive Vice-Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Umar Danbatta, in Abuja, to seek the assistance of telecoms service providers for the exercise, explained that in addition to the electronic announcement of election results, physical copies of the results of the 2019 elections will be given to party agents.
He also urged the NCC to collaborate with the commission in the distribution of bulk SMS and possibly voice messages on the imperative of peaceful elections, collection of permanent voter cards and directions on the location of polling units to ease access to them by voters. It is equally good that the exercise will commence with the Ekiti and Osun states gubernatorial elections billed to take place in July and September respectively.
Although the electoral commission has developed the requisite hardware and software for the exercise, it has to rely on telecoms operators for the transmission of both the figures and the scanned images of result sheets.
Good enough, Danbatta has assured the nation that NCC would help INEC to ensure that the 2019 elections are free, fair and credible. He also promised that the commission would improve the security of the communications system before the 2019 elections for effective delivery of election results.
While we applaud the plan for electronic transmission of election results by INEC, we advise that the exercise should be given a mock trial even before the Ekiti and Osun gubernatorial polls. These gubernatorial elections will serve as a litmus test for the new system and INEC cannot afford to bungle it.
It should conduct a pilot study on the system and perfect it before deploying it for actual polls. Since we have not yet perfected the use of the card reader used during the 2015 general elections, INEC officials should properly try out the electronic transmission of results before deploying it for real elections.
There is also the need for massive voter education on the electronic transmission of results and the entire electoral process. Transmitting poll results electronically will help to reduce the anxiety occasioned by prolonged delay of election results. It will reduce the period people wait for election results and leave less room for speculators and purveyors of false news who sometimes take advantage of the delays to publish false results online.
Releasing the results electronically will also largely reduce the allegations of rigging that trail most electoral contests in the country. This is, indeed, one step forward for the electoral body. Once we get this right, there will be hope that we shall one day introduce and perfect electronic voting in the country. However, INEC must guarantee the integrity of its electronic systems and the personnel who will handle them.
The electoral agency should also ensure that electronic results are transmitted only through its official website that would be made accessible to all Nigerians. The physical copies of the election results that are duly signed by the relevant party agents should also be given to the party representatives before the electronic transmission of results. This will go a long way in checking fraud in the system.