2023: Problematising the Digitalisaton of Voter Participation

The Independent National Electoral Commission recently rejected the mandatory use of National Identity Number for Continuous Voter Registration which resumes on 28 June 2021, in the 774 Local Government Areas. This is ahead of the 2023 general election. According to the INEC chairman, Yakubu Mahmood:

“The NIN is not going to be mandatory for the simple reason that we are operating on the basis of the law establishing INEC. Section 10 of the Electoral Act lists the means of identification to be presented by prospective registrants for the purpose of registration.

“This includes, birth certificate, national passport, national identity card, or any other document that will prove the identity, age, and nationality of the applicants. The NIN is only one of the means of identification provided for under section 10 (2) of the Electoral Act.

“We can’t single that out and make it mandatory. All the other requirements are requirements of the law and we must apply the law equally. Yes, if you have your national ID card, you can present it during registration but we will not make it mandatory means of identification for the exercise.”

Earlier reports had it that INEC was considering the move in a bid to “harmonise all databases.” This is as INEC targets twenty million voters as registration begins June 28.

While it is very reasonable that INEC has taken this stance, especially at a crucial time like this, it is noteworthy that several countries around the world rely on a national database and not the Permanent Voter Card for voting. It is only tenable that Nigeria at this stage should start considering, as soon as possible, the option of making the national card the means of identification during voting as opposed to the PVC. This is in view of growing modernisation to aid electoral processes.

This is the ideal thing in line with global best practice. The PVC was only introduced with a timeline of ten years to make Nigerians acquire the national Identity. In other words, when the PVC was introduced, it was meant to be in use for 10 years and the assumption was that within those 10 years, the national identity card would have been acquired by a majority of Nigerians.

NIN can help in preventing voter’s fraud that is characteristic of the PVC. It is equally instrumental for possible switch to e-voting.

Experts have suggested combining the national identity card and voter registration card, so it will be merged into a single smart card. This is because it is integrative and cost effective in regards to national implementation, and houses the potential to reduce the practice of voter card racketeering.

Read Also: 2023 Elections: Taking Advantage of the e-Voting Option

If a country has the financial means and technological capability to implement a dual national ID/voter card system, it should, but it is not the best option for a developing country that can’t police her polls effectively.

Some of the problems that may emerge include confusion when there are conflicting information on the two means of documentation, and potentials for abuse of private data, as well as violation of voting rules.

In Poland, however, there is no need to distinguish between personal ID and voters’ cards because civic register is well managed (all births, deaths, marital status changes and permanent emigrations plus all penalized with legal rights suspension are immediately centrally registered) and harmonized with EMB. No one who is not eligible will appear in the electoral register hence no need to produce double documents. The personal ID card is enough to cast the vote. The only exemption is for those who want to vote in the place different from the permanent address.

For Colombia there is a database of the Civil Registry of people (all Colombians), another database of Columbians over 18 years old (who are issued ID’s), and a database of voter registration and electoral rolls (contains people who can vote and vote with amendments and updates). The latter is used for elections in which people using national ID’s are compared to their roll registration

The use of the National Identity card for the purpose of elections would be a good move. This is because the election is supposed to be an exercise in which only Nigerians who have reached the age of 18 years and above can participate in either as those to vote or those to be voted for. One does not expect that the citizen of any other country to take active part in our election.

The National ID card has micro chips where biometrics are included. It is possible to incorporate whatever feature one has in the PVC into the National ID card which is already being used as an ATM card. They can be harmonised in such a way that when a Nigerian is born, he/she can be registered and his or her records are uploaded into a data base.

Read Also: 2023: No Room for Igbo Presidency

This data base can be updated in such a way that when a person turns 18, a feature that will enable him/her to vote will be activated. The National ID card can also have a feature to enable the user utilize it as a driving licence.

This feature can of course only be activated when the holder comes of age and passes the requisite tests. This will go a long way in providing the much needed data base for planning purposes.

Meanwhile, the head of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Yakubu Mahmud, said recently that about 40 companies providing electronic voting machines had been invited to demonstrate their expertise in the domain, and show whether they will be able to meet the body’s specifications.

Nigeria currently uses biometric technology for the registration of new voters on electoral rolls as well as the accreditation of registered voters using a Smart Card Reader (SCR). INEC’s biometric voter registry is also the largest database of Nigerian citizens.

At a ceremony to launch the demonstration of expertise of the companies being solicited to deploy their electronic voting technologies in Nigeria, Yakubu recounted the steps that have already been taken by the country to incorporate digital technology in its electoral process. In his words, “let me reassure Nigerians that the commission is committed to expediting the process leading to the deployment of electronic voting machines in elections in earnest”.

While INEC is working to secure the technology provider for the project and choose the kind of electronic voting system and biometric controls it wants to adopt, the country’s legislature is also expected to work on proposed amendments to the electoral laws tabled before it already, in order to make way for the adoption of the new system.

Meanwhile, debates on the pros and cons of introducing electronic voting in Nigeria has saturated the public sphere, especially the media, lately. While some point out a number of claimed disadvantages of digitized voting, others appear to agree that such an experience is the best thing that can happen to the country’s elections in this era.

The embrace of technology in the conduct of our elections will certainly enhance our electoral process and put a stamp of clear legitimacy on all those elected into government.

Nelson Okoh

Categories: Features, News, Politics