ELECTION TECH

Technology Hiccups Mar Crucial General Elections In Africa’s Largest Democracy

By  |  February 27, 2023

More than 48 hours after Nigerians thronged much of the 176,000+ polling units across the country to cast their votes in a crucial election that would, amongst other things, produce the country’s next President, a cloud of disappointment hangs in the air.

The shoddy performance of the technology stack of Nigeria’s electoral body, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which had assured a hitch-free process on account of technological improvements it claimed to have implemented, has left the populace underwhelmed.

In an effort to curb malpractice and restore confidence in the system, Nigeria has adopted electoral reform policies that have made a couple of technological components a mainstay in the process, namely, the Bimodal Voters Accreditation System (BVAS) and the Independent National Electoral Commission Result Viewing Portal (IReV).

The former, BVAS, is a digital device that authenticates and accredits voters via fingerprints and facial recognition, and also captures images of the polling unit result sheets (Form EC8A) and uploads the image online to INEC servers.

The BVAS is itself accompanied by IReV, which allows citizens to view the results uploaded by INEC. The BVAS is supported by a strong legal framework – the Electoral Act. The absence of the Act previously, in the three elections between 2011 and 2019, fundamentally weakened the results verification process.

Apart from the fact that the ongoing elections have, in many places, been marred by deliberate disenfranchisement and voter suppression caused by violent disruption meted out by agents identified to be working for the ruling party and poor deployment of resources or maladministration by officials, the performance of the technology components; BVAS and IReV, have been anything but satisfactory.

A shabby showing

On Sunday, February 26, INEC reported that it’s experiencing “technical hitches” related to scaling the use of its election result viewer, (IReV), a portal it created to provide real-time transmission of election results.

According to a statement signed by the Chairman for its Information & Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, the portal was unprepared for managing nationwide general elections and has only been used in “off-season” periods.

“Our technical team is working assiduously to solve all the outstanding problems, and users of the IReV would have noticed improvements since last night,” the statement read.

Since the passing of the modified Electoral Act in 2022, this will be the first time Nigeria, with over 95 million registered voters, will be using electronic devices to conduct elections; an exercise that INEC was furnished with a reported NGN 350 B (~USD 762 M) to carryout but hasn’t quite lived up to expectations to the dismay of locals. INEC however assures Nigerians of the security of its systems and its eagerness to tackle discrepancies in the face of the irregularities seen in the accreditation, voting, collation, and results computation exercise.

Some of the discrepancies were observed with BVAS, according to reports from polling units across the country, where the device malfunctioned, effectively disenfranchising multitudes who could not be accredited to vote despite being registered voters in possession of the requisite Permanent Voters Card.

In another instance, the INEC establishment is being criticised for its failure to live up to the task of making results information available in real-time through the online transmission of results from polling units via images of results sheets that are supposed to be captured by the BVAS machine.

Is election tech the answer?

Technology is often tipped to remove the potential for election fraud, dangers of programming errors, virus attacks, software attacks, or system hacking, and even the possibility of phoney polling units, drawing election authorities to it.

Database and server back-end problems are challenging and frequently contentious. In the case presented before the elections tribunal by a loser in the presidential election, INEC’s server troubles in the 2019 general elections in Nigeria were crucial.

The most concerning problem, however, is the technological manipulation of the outcomes. There have been allegations of collusion between election technology companies and political parties in a number of countries, including the US (more specifically, the state of California during the Democratic Party primaries in 2016), Kenya (most infamously in 2013 and 2017), Congo-Kinshasa (2018), Venezuela (2017), and the Philippines (2017). (2022). The legitimacy of “smart elections” is seriously in jeopardy, as highlighted in this article by Dengiyefa Angalapu, a Research Analyst with the Centre for Democracy and Development.

“The growing disenchantment with election technology worldwide is perhaps best captured by the lawsuit submitted by Raila Odinga, the first runner-up in Kenya’s 2022 presidential election, suggesting that wholesale adoption of electoral technologies did not diminish election rigging,” Angalapu argued.

“Evidence shows that technologically advanced countries are increasingly apprehensive about completely shifting to technology, and some, like Germany, are even cutting down on the use of election technology because of security risks,” he pointed out.

Nevertheless, Nigerians – and perhaps the rest of the continent – would be hoping to see all the issues addressed in a just manner as collation is in progress while holding their breath in anticipation of a favourable outcome in Africa’s largest democracy and biggest economy which has evidently gone backwards over the last eight years.

Featured Image Credits: Grid News

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