As part of the preparations towards the anticipated launch of electronic voting in forthcoming elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) said it has commenced the analysis of the various electronic voting machines showcased by over 50 companies.
It added that it was looking forward to the amendment of the legal framework that would enable electronic voting, noting that it remained committed to introducing electronic voting machines in the electoral process to replace the manual system that had put the commission under heavy logistics burden, including the printing of electoral papers and hiring of thousands of ad hoc staff, among others.
The INEC National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, disclosed these in an interview with Sunday PUNCH.
He explained that the commission was currently attending to procurement issues to the extent allowed by the COVID-19 protocols.
INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, had said during the 2021 budget defence before the House of Representatives Committee on Electoral Matters on November 4, 2020 that the commission would deploy the electronic voting machines very soon, possibly beginning with the Anambra governorship poll scheduled to hold in November this year.
Yakubu had earlier said that over 40 companies that indicated interest in hard and software production would be invited to demonstrate to the commission how their Information Technology solutions meet the commission’s specifications.
“It is difficult to give you an idea of cost or when the process would be concluded, but we are determined that we are going to deploy electronic voting machines, electronic balloting machines very soon in our elections, possibly beginning with the Anambra governorship election in 2021.
But, Okoye said in the interview, “The commission is presently engaged in the procurement of INEC Voter Enrolment Devices (IVED) for the planned Voter Register update processes. These devices will be used to enroll Nigerians that have attained the age of 18 years, clean up the voters register and acquire additional biometric that will be in consonance with the use of Electronic Voting machines.
“The commission invited over 50 companies engaged in hard and software production to demonstrate the different brands and versions of their Electronic Voting Machines. The companies demonstrated the different Electronic Voting Machine solutions available.
“Some of the companies demonstrated the solutions virtually. The commission is analysing all the demonstrated systems for purposes of choosing the ones that are in tandem with our ecosystem, is rugged, simple to use and easily maintained.”
Some political watchers who spoke to one of our correspondents however called on the commission to ensure the process was transparent so as not to deflate the anticipated benefits and people’s confidence in the proposed e-voting system.
Asked if INEC was still committed to electronic voting in 2023, Okoye said, “The commission is committed to deepening the use of technology in the electoral process and the commission is committed to the introduction of electronic voting machines in Nigeria.
“We are therefore attending to procurement issues under the shadow of the pandemic. The pandemic no doubt affected and still affects production capacities of hardware and software companies. We are also looking forward to the amendments of the electoral legal framework that will domicile more concretely the use of technology in the electoral process.”
There has been divided opinions on whether the country was ripe for electronic voting, but Yakubu said at the inauguration of the 1999 Constitution Review Committee of the House of Representatives in October 2020 that elections in the country were too manual, expensive, cumbersome and archaic.
He added that “the encumbrance of the deployment of full technology in elections should be removed.”