Technology, INEC and the 2019 general elections – Punch Newspapers

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Chukwuemeka Fred Agbata Jnr.

Election fever is already upon us as 2019 is around the corner. Politics and election matters are now the major news items across the country. It is believed that by the end of this month, almost all aspects of our national existence would come to a halt until the elections are over.

Interestingly, our world has become so dependent on technology that you can’t discuss elections and not mention the role of technology; whether for good or bad. The fact that we now have over 90 registered political parties is an over-stretch. How do you conduct transparent elections with over 90 political parties without technology?

Election technology if properly implemented and adhered to enhances voter identification, rules out identification fraud which encourages multiple voting and makes the voting process much easier and faster.

Although technology can guarantee electoral integrity, it is dependent on the limits of the technology deployed because technology can fail and it is prone to being compromised.

As a proud Nigerian citizen with my Permanent Voter Card, I wish to share a few thoughts on ways to ensure that we strengthen our electoral process and make it more acceptable.

Confronting the menace of fake news

Fake news is a menace that even social media platform owners don’t know how to deal with. The Director of BBC World Service, Mr. Jamie Angus, who featured on the Sunrise Daily, Channels TV a few weeks ago, said, “…as 2019 election approaches, politicians would use opportunity to plant and spread malicious stories.” His fears have also been expressed by a number of people both within and outside the government.

One thing is clear: we must confront the issue of fake news. While researching for this piece, I put a call through to the Director, Voter Education, Publicity, Gender and CSO Liaison, INEC, Oluwole Uzzi, and he said that some of the ways the commission was dealing with the challenge of fake news was through massive sensitisation, public awareness, timely release of information and access to genuine source of information.

Fake news can only be curbed with the cooperation of everyone who is using one of those devices or belongs to those platforms as purveyors of fake news.

As a personal example, I do not share or forward any information that I received except I am 100 per cent sure of the source. This is a personal policy that I have employed to ensure I am not part of the fake news promoters in any way possible.

Proper use of PVC/Smart card reader

INEC currently uses the Permanent Voter Card to facilitate voting activities in the country. Smart card readers are used to determine the authenticity of the PVC and access voter information before eligible voters are allowed to cast their votes.

This election technology is good and simple for voters. Its beauty is that it perfectly complements the use of ballot papers.

However, I remember that during the last general elections, a number of Nigerians were not properly educated on how best to use these devices. It is important for INEC to engage in massive enlightenment campaign that will ensure that more people are aware of how to properly use these smart card readers.

Voting with ATM cards/BVN

I often wonder why we can’t vote with our ATM cards or bank verification numbers. I believe this process may work in Nigeria, particularly because of BVN policy and will likely enhance voting security and user identification. The only challenge however is that millions of Nigerians have not been captured into the financial sector and will be potentially disenfranchised.

Experimentation with blockchain technology

Considering that blockchain technology is sweeping across the world in a swift pool, several countries have begun to experiment with blockchain voting. This involves the use of voting via crypto currencies such as Bitcoin to record and audit votes.

Blockchain voting enables voters to cast their votes from their smartphones from far-away distances. It eliminates voter frauds since the identity of the voter is verified using biometric tools such as a thumbprint scan when using a mobile device to vote.

West Virginia is the first United States state to experiment with blockchain voting and it turned out a huge success although a small number of voters were used to try the new voting technology.

Blockchain voting was also tried in the Zug municipality of Switzerland and was recorded as successful. It is said that the US election officials are currently arranging for many Americans overseas to vote using blockchain technology in the coming November elections.

Online/Internet voting

Nigerians, particularly those in the Diaspora, have been clamouring for online election which is widely accepted as feasible because of its seeming simplicity. In the United States, 32 states offered online voting systems to ease the voting process for the electorates though experts warned that online voting was not secure.

According to election security experts, Internet voting is fraught with risks of election/voting manipulations which may not be detectable before officials are sworn into office.

“We believe that online voting, especially online voting in large scale, introduces great risk into the election system by threatening voters’ expectations of confidentiality, accountability and security of their votes and provides an avenue for malicious actors to manipulate the voting results,” Neil Jenkins, an official in the Office of Cybersecurity and Communications at the Department of Homeland Security, United States.

My concluding thought is that the 2019 general elections are going to be a herculean task for the Nigerian state, the electoral umpire, the political parties and the electorate themselves. For us to make the most of the process, we need to leverage various technologies in the entire process from planning, to implementation, sensitisation, collation of results and announcement.

“The purpose of an election is not just to select a winner but to convince the loser and their supporters that they lost. Trust in the voting process is, therefore, an essential element to any voting system,” Dr. Vanessa Teague, a cryptographer and researcher at the University of Melbourne in Australia told CSO Online.

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