INEC Chairman Tells Politicians To Forget About Rigging, Insist On Using BVAS
The system of using the BVAS for the conduct of elections has come to stay. There’s no going back” – Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, INEC Chairman
Africa’s biggest election will hold in February 2023 in Nigeria. It’s the seventh successive general elections in Nigeria’s 23 years of unbroken democratic expedition.
With 10 million new voters added to the voters’ roll, an estimated 95 million registered voters will vote in 176,846 polling units distributed across 774 local government areas. A total of 12,163 candidates sponsored by 18 political parties are on the ballot for election into 109 senatorial districts, 360 federal constituencies, 993 state constituencies, 28 governorship positions and the Office of the President.
The election is conducted against the backdrop of a new electoral law and innovations introduced by the Independent National Electoral Commission to enhance electoral integrity and inspire public confidence in the electoral process. In the final analysis, the effective implementation, or lack thereof, of these new electoral technologies will play a significant role in assessing the integrity of the 2023 general elections.
The Bimodal Voter Accreditation System and INEC Election Result Viewing Portal are two technological innovations celebrated for enhancing the transparency of election results and boosting public trust in electoral outcomes in recent elections.
INEC asserts that these technologies are addressing the 10 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 tools perform mutually reinforcing and critical functions in elections. 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
Despite improving public confidence in electoral outcomes, the introduction of BVAS and IReV is anathema to political actors determined to subvert the people’s will at all costs. It is, therefore, not surprising to learn of alleged attempts to torpedo INEC plans to safeguard the integrity of the election using the BVAS and IReV. A case in point is the litigation instituted in the Imo State High court seeking a restraining order against INEC to suspend the deployment of the BVAS for the general election.
Across the world, the introduction of electoral technologies has attracted contestations and controversies driven mainly by its propensity to enhance election credibility and undermine public trust in elections at the same time especially when electoral technologies are compromised.
Most importantly, electoral technologies ensure efficiency in election administration and limit human interference with the electoral process. As these technologies evolve, attempts to compromise them heighten. 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. Therefore, to increase the trust quotient in the BVAS and IReV, INEC should implement the following actions as a matter of urgency:
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The BVAS 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.
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 60 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.