It’s just a week and few days until the Presidential and National Assembly elections scheduled to be held on Saturday, February 25. And barely a month to the governorship and state houses of assembly elections, fixed for March 11. And that’s going to be Africa’s biggest election this year, according to analysts. It will also be the seventh successive general election in Nigeria’s 24 years of uninterrupted democratic journey.
According to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), about 10 million new voters had been added to the country’s voters’ roll. This means an estimated 95 million registered voters will vote in about 176,846 polling units distributed across 774 local government areas in the country.
But two new electoral technologies will play a major role in revealing the integrity of players and the referee in the general elections, and who wins and loses.
The technological innovations for 2023 elections
When INEC said in 2021 that the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System ( BVAS) was going to be deployed for the Anambra governorship election of November 26 that year, not a few Nigerians including observer groups and other critical election stakeholders, expressed their reservations as to the effectiveness of the technology. But the insistence of INEC on its introduction and usage for subsequent elections in the country proved the critics wrong and reinforced the fact that it has come to stay.
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“As I have said repeatedly, the commission’s allegiance is to Nigeria. Our loyalty is to Nigerians who want free, fair, credible and verifiable elections supported by technology, which guarantees transparent accreditation and upload of polling unit results for citizens to view in real-time on Election Day.
“It is for these reasons that the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and the INEC Result Viewing Portal (IReV) were introduced. There is no going back on the deployment of BVAS and IReV for the 2023 General Election,” INEC chairman, Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu, said.
INEC National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee (IVEC), Festus Okoye, had also said the commission was aware that result management has remained a major source of mistrust in the nation’s electoral process, as citizens are often concerned, and sometimes rightly so, that results may not always be consistent with votes cast.
“This replica of the polling unit result is pasted at the Polling Unit after votes are counted, recorded and announced. This poster, now widely known as the “People’s Form EC8A”, has increased transparency in result management,” Okoye said.
But “unfortunately, this has also led to abuses, as unofficial and at times false results are known to have been circulated, particularly via social media, leading to tension and casting aspersions on the final outcome of elections.
“To further strengthen the transparency in the election result management system, the commission has decided to introduce a dedicated public portal, the INEC RESULT VIEWING (IReV), that will enable Nigerians to view Polling Unit results real time as the voting ends on Election Day,” he said.
INEC asserts that BVAS and IReV technologies will address the ten most pervasive weaknesses in Nigeria’s election result management process, which include falsification of votes at polling units, falsification of number of accredited voters, collation of false results, mutilation of results and computational errors, swapping of results sheets, forging of results sheets, snatching and destruction of results sheets, obtaining declaration and return involuntarily, making declaration and return while result collation is still in progress and poor recordkeeping. Both technologies perform mutually reinforcing and critical functions in elections, according to INEC.
The BVAS is a technological device used to identify and accredit voters’ fingerprints and facial recognition before voting. The device is also used for capturing images of the polling unit result sheet (Form EC8A) and uploading the image of the result sheet online. IReV is an online portal where polling unit level results are uploaded directly from the polling unit, transmitted, and published for the public. At the front end of the online portal, members of the public can create personal accounts with which they can gain access to all uploaded results stored as PDF files. This accessibility of polling unit level results increases transparency and public trust in the process, according to INEC.
How to access IReV portal
Interested Nigerians are to access the site by login-in to https://www.inecelectionresults.com or https://www.inecelectionresults.com/login.
The link will take an applicant to a sign-up or sign-in page.
Thereafter an applicant is expected to “Click on “Create new Account?”, fill in his or her details in the form provided and click on “Sign in”.
Such is also expected to provide a state of origin and click on “Continue”.
An account activation email is sent to the email address provided in the form.
And individuals should copy the activation code which will be entered into the text box provided on the portal to activate the account.
This logs applicants into the portal and they can select the election whose Polling Unit (PU) results they are interested in viewing.
There are also filter buttons to make the search easier.
Applicants are also given the opportunity to select the election type to view results in either presidential, governorship, senatorial, House of Representatives, house of assembly, chairmanship, and councillor elections.
Applicants can also log out of the portal by clicking on the space provided under their name by the top right corner of the portal.
According to an election affair analyst, Samson Itodo, attempts at compromising these new technologies heighten as they evolve. “Elections can be stolen, and voter choices upturned by compromised election officials with a click of a button. Tech tools may also be subjected to disruptive cyber-attacks. These issues amplify the essence of greater transparency by election management bodies to increase public trust and confidence in electoral technologies”, Itodo said.
But Itodo suggested that to increase the trust quotient in the BVAS and IReV, INEC should implement the following actions as a matter of urgency:
“BVAS Software Optimisation
Efficiency in the delivery of electoral services builds public trust. The BVAS software should be modified and upgraded to improve voter accreditation and picture quality. Its IOS should be upgraded to introduce a feature that enables the camera to detect or capture/focus on the object of interest, such as the entire result sheet. In addition, a PDF compression script should be integrated into the portal to ease downloads of election results.
Electronically transmit and publish voter accreditation data on the IReV
In addition to the transmission of Polling Unit level results, he also said INEC should electronically transmit and publish the number of accredited voters on the results viewing portal. The BVAS stores the number of accredited voters; however, the stored data is not transmitted electronically or published on the IReV portal. Electronically transmitting the number of accredited voters is in accordance with Section 64(4)(5)(6) of the Electoral Act 2022, which provides that the number of accredited voters recorded and transmitted directly from the Polling Unit shall be considered in the collation and announcement of results.
Also to deepen the transparency of the collation process, he said the Form EC8B, ward collation result sheet should be uploaded on the IReV portal at the close of collation at the ward level. He added that this serves as oversight on ward collation, which is the weakest link in the election results value chain. Uploading the collated results sheet will facilitate monitoring and tracking of the results collation process by citizens and stakeholders.
According to INEC, the IReV has been deployed in 105 elections involving 16,694,461 registered voters since it was first introduced in the 2020 Nasarawa Central by-election. In these elections, 32,935 results sheets (Form EC8A) were uploaded from polling units in rural and urban areas, including polling units in communities affected by insecurity. For the 2023 Presidential and National Assembly election, 530,538 results sheets (Form EC8A) will be uploaded on the IReV portal. It will be the first time the portal is processing this volume of results data. Therefore, Itodo said INEC should increase its servers’ bandwidth, RAM size, and storage capacity to improve the processing power of the IReV portal and ensure public access to results uploaded on the portal. The BVAS and IReV should be configured to manage multiple requests due to the huge traffic on Election Day.
Timely conduct of penetration tests and mock exercises
In Kenya, the electoral commission is under a mandatory duty to test, verify and deploy technology at least sixty days before a general election. Nigeria’s Electoral Act has no similar provision. Notwithstanding, INEC has conducted simulation exercises for the BVAS in the past. While the 105 elections may be considered mock exercises for the BVAS and IReV, the high volume of information exchange, data processing, and transmission involved in the general election is incomparable to those elections. This is why penetration tests and mock exercises are required to assess the robustness, efficiency, security, and capacity of INEC servers and devices before their eventual deployment for the general election. Pre-deployment tests should be based on an extensive and representative methodology that integrates stakeholder consultation and public participation. Sharing the outputs of the test/exercises will enlist public support for the BVAS and IReV, just as creating opportunities for independent verification and audits of electoral technologies will be pivotal to inspiring public confidence. While there has been no successful cyber-attack to date on the BVAS and IReV, the public will require assurances of the durability, reliability, and robustness of INEC’s tech defence system.
Adopt a new approach to the training of election officials on electoral technology
Based on the recent deployment of the BVAS and IReV, there is a relationship between the quality of the election staff and management of the device and the quality of results sheets uploaded on the results viewing portal. In a recent Election Results Analysis Dashboard (ERAD) report, poorly captured images of results sheets and incorrect or incomplete forms were uploaded on the IReV. INEC should make significant investment in the training of Polling Unit officials, with a special focus on result transmission, ballot paper accounting as well as the capturing of Polling Unit results using the BVAS. All poll officials with the responsibility of handling the BVAS should undergo practical simulation sessions using the BVAS before Election Day. Expectedly, this policy action will address the capacity deficits.
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