There is no doubt that one of the noticeable flaws of Nigeria’s electoral system since our 22 years of unbroken democracy is the inability of many political actors to accept electoral results without challenging them in courts. Some politicians have found it exceedingly difficult to concede defeat even when it is glaring that they lost the poll. Due to the unhealthy political development, it has become the duty of the courts to determine the winner of many electoral contests in the country. Using the courts to determine the outcome of some elections has engendered bad blood in the polity.
Apart from former President Goodluck Jonathan who willingly conceded defeat during the 2015 presidential election, most candidates defeated in such polls have stridently challenged them in courts. Almost all gubernatorial contests in the country have not gone unchallenged. The story is virtually the same with legislative elections at federal and state levels.
It is paradoxical that even when it is so clear that a Nigerian politician lost an election, he would still approach the courts to restore or reclaim his so-called “stolen mandate.” Although electoral frauds have become the order of the day since our nascent democracy in 1999, the increasing number of litigations in our elections is, indeed, worrisome. For the 2019 general election alone, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) revealed that it recorded about 1,689 litigations. Out of the number, over 890 were said to be pre-election matters, while 799 cases arose from various election petitions tribunals.
Ordinarily, most of the election outcomes that ended up in courts would not have been so if our electoral system has been sanitised and made to be more efficient, transparent and free from official meddlesomeness. In some instances, some vested interests have colluded with unscrupulous electoral officials to determine the outcome of some polls.
Since we are in a digital age where technology can be deployed to enhance the efficiency of almost all human activities including the conduct of elections, it has become obvious that Nigeria cannot continue to depend on analog system to do the same. The introduction of the card reader machines was apparently part of the efforts to retool our electoral system but a lot still has to be done to fully digitalise the electoral system for optimum results.
The recurring lamentations over “stolen mandates,” whether real or contrived, will continue to haunt the electoral system and the managers of our electoral umpire until there is willingness on the part of the government, the electoral agency and other stakeholders to embrace electronic voting. With e-voting, the disputations and unnecessary litigations that presently characterise our elections will be considerably reduced. Although e-voting may have some flaws, no doubt, its advantages far outweigh its disadvantages. Some of the features of e-voting system are: Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting machines; 21 inch touch screen, which offers a contest-by-contest and allows multiple contest (one contest per page) display of ballots and a cut-and-drop paper record printer for voters to verify their selections. The e-voting system accommodates alternate languages to English such as Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba and others. Besides, it provides accessibility to blind voters and others with physical disabilities through the use of voice assistance in any ballot language and the use of an accessible keyboard. Above all, e-voting eliminates unintentional undervotes.
It makes vote counting and result tabulation faster and more accurate. It also reduces the difficulties of voters making their choices. E-voting makes spoiled ballots impossible and unintentional blank ballots difficult. The DRE technology reduces the cost of election administration. It is more cost-effective and can prevent fraud. With e-voting, there is no need for cubicles and ballot boxes. Besides, the e-voting machine can be used for 3-4 general election cycles.
However, it is worth pointing out that hackers can compromise electronic voting if only online and internet based. The biggest disadvantage of an electronic voting machine is election hacking. Just like any other electronic device, the risk that someone could illegally alter the results of an election is always there. This could be done either through physical tampering or a remote attack over the internet. But good enough, stand alone balloting machine at the polling unit not connected to internet or any local area network cannot be hacked. With e-voting, elections are unique as they change the fate of nations, influence participation and activism in politics, and deeply affect the lives and attitudes of citizens. Also, voters will gain a better voting experience at the polls and will be more confident that their votes will be correctly counted.
Some renowned authorities have argued in favour of electronic voting. For instance, Michael Shamos of Carnegie Mellon University says, “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.”
Therefore, let members of the National Assembly include e-voting in the Electoral Act amendment bill so that it can be introduced before the 2023 general election. Let e-voting be test-run with off-season polls such as the November 6 Anambra governorship election and others.
For the ballots to determine the winners of our elections rather than the courts, we must be ready to embrace e-voting in view of its numerous advantages.