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Thursday, March 30, 2006

Right time for e-voting ...


Features of the week:

Introducing the Electronic Voting System (EVS) at this time in the country has become imperative, reports REMMY NWEKE.

Practice makes perfect …
An old time adage has it that practice makes perfect and obviously this is hinged on both physical and visible experiences of the past. As such, there is no innovation that does not have an improved version and electronic voting system is not an exception.

Discussing with a fellow Nigerian in far away German city of Berlin recently, on hearing that the new helmsman at the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Maurice Iwu, is keen on enthroning EVS, Mazi Igilige Ubochi, was excited and on inquiry, the technologist who had since become a ‘brain-drain’ said, “at last, my country is becoming technology conscious”.

Mazi Ubochi who immediately became an advocate of EVS among peers said, for President Olusegun Obasanjo to have realized that the “more we are able to take human error, either by omission or commission, away from the electoral process, the more our electoral process and the results will be less controvertible and controversial” adding that it is a sign of good tidings that political leaders now have a place for technology in a developing nation like Nigeria.

He was particular about where Obasanjo was quoted, in Abuja while receiving Imo State Council of Traditional Rulers, as saying that the nation cannot afford to lag behind in revolutionizing the electoral process in this modern age especially, “When everybody is going digital and everything is going digital”.

Benefits
According to Mazi Ubochi, the benefits of e-voting abound, such as offering multiple advantages over traditional paper-based voting system, thereby increasing citizens’ access and contribution to democratic processes.

Another is that the system could switch to a local language of the voter’s choice, like we do these days with some telcos’ Interactive Voice Response (IVR). Additionally, it could be easily adapted for use by the blind. As well, it affords people the courage of voting securely and in secret, to name a few.

These were also accented to by the Senate Leader, Alhaji Dalhatu Sarki Tafida. While making a case for e-voting at the Senate recently, he noted that even the national identity card could be deployed, which is yet to go round, to ensure one-man one-vote, as well as thumb printing.

Above all, it will checkmate electoral corruption and malpractices as the result is expected to hit the central server as the vote is cast, both at the local polling center and at the national level, that’s INEC headquarters, simultaneously.

Conversely, EVS has some shortcomings, which include acceptance by political class, its cost of implementation, which is usually high and ability to confer confidence in the election results generated automatically. Even as there is no open audit probably to allow individual voters on the platform to verify results afterwards.

This is not to say that disadvantages outweigh the advantages in any way.
Anatomy of e-voting

Historically, e-voting traverses mere electronic system, meaning it could be used whether on or off line. Whilst the online version could go for a voting via the Internet, it could also be used without being connected to the Internet or World Wide Web (www).

The offline electronic voting evolves deployment of a system embedded with computational mechanism with power source, thus allowing voters’ details to be recorded electronically in contact with the central server.

First kind of these models were introduced in 1869, when Mr. Thomas Edison proposed to record and count votes cast by congressmen through electromechanical ‘machines’.

However, advancement has continued to change the evolution methodologies from one inventor to another, creating a divide between the machine and system in EVS.

The American Heritage dictionary defines machine thus “A device consisting of fixed and moving parts that modifies mechanical energy and transmits it in a more useful form.” But, system is described in Columbia encyclopedia as “A mechanical, optical, or electronic system that is used to maintain a desired output”.

The concept
The call for a better society and development motivated some scientists to come up with ‘electronic voting’ basically concerned with electronic democracy, hence computerized collection of data in the 70s and as democratic experiment continued into the 21st century, its acceptance became imperative.

Defined as collection and dissemination of peoples’ opinion, especially during elections, the computer-based EVS came as experiments where all the voting alternatives are put to play.

Most systems deployed for electronic voting usually have other functions to go with and could be said to be a general communication systems. Since voting is a form of getting together of people in a given state to form a consensus or otherwise on issues and for those who mount the saddle of leadership, specifically.

Though, experts noted that systems for automated voting in electronic democracy are relatively recent but the first known acceptable computer supported device was that of the Delphi panel that Murray Turoff executed in 1970 called Emergency Management Information System And Reference Index (EMISARI).

Voices
Still in the euphoria, Mazi Ubochi learnt few months later that some members of the nation’s Senate were ‘unsettled’ about the EVS, basically on the ‘Voting Machine’ aspect.

A professor turned Senator was quoted as not understanding what INEC meant by the system at his level of education, let alone an illiterate rural farmer. But like one salesman once declared in a commuter bus in Lagos also known as ‘Molue’; “education is not a sign of vision, but tends to be complimented by education”. This goes to say that before advent of any technology in every society there are some wise illiterates, whilst experiment and perfecting act continue.

Proponents though were not assuring of 100 per cent accuracy, but concerned with improving level of accuracy during elections.

A Lagos-based social critic, Mr. Charles Okoh, noted equally the essence of rural electrification, which would encourage political class to ensure that financial votes received for rural development are used appropriately and bringing about good governance.

Wondering what it should have looked like if Nigeria had waited for all citizens to become literate before embracing much touted technologies like the Global System for Mobile communications (GSM) among others, yet many illiterate Nigerians now own and use GSM phones, just five years after.

Therefore it was not surprising that some Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) experts are backing INEC to deploy EVS for the 2007 general elections, citing enormous benefits.

Eastern Nigeria-based Internet Service Provider (ISP) and education provider, Mr. Mba Nwakanma, described it as a great idea, imploring political class to let the system be and devoid of any form of manipulations. Noting that election and rigging has reached the state of “a desperate situation”.

For Chief executive of Connect Technologies, Mr. Chris Uwaje, EVS is “very critical to national security and democratic process.” Advocating a roundtable stakeholders’ forum to not only harvest support for EVS, but deliberate on the fundamental, which goes beyond electronic voting to the ability to establish national IT enabling environment for engaging the emerging information and knowledge society.

Emphasizing its impact on national security dwells on imperativeness of having a national database structure for the country.

INEC reassures
Good news, however, is that INEC has reassured of its resolve to take the bull by the horns, as the commission insisted “there is no going back on the proposal” as said by Prof. Iwu recently in Abuja, maintaining EVS remains an integral part of the 2007 general elections.

This came after the Senate had on March 1, reportedly expunged the clause specifically on Electronic Voting Machine (EVM).

Chief Press Secretary to INEC boss, Mr. Andy Ezeani, informed that although INEC is not particular about any EVM, stressed that entries were received globally; from United States, Europe, Israel, Asia and Africa, for the production and supply of the machine, including the Security and Mint, a subsidiary of Central Bank of Nigeria apart from four firms that participated in the pilot scheme.

Explaining that EVS is a system and not a machine, consist of four modules, namely electronic voters register, electronic authentication of voters card, electronic voting machine (EVM) and automatic transmission of election results.

“Unfortunately, many mistake the EVS for EVM and agitation seems to be over the voting machine,” he asserted, maintaining that no doubt, the other aspects of the EVS will be in use, as he alleged that those against EVM are those planning to rig 2007 elections.

Though with EVS, he said, there will be paper print out of votes, the result is transmitted instantly to the polling stations and the INEC headquarters with underlining idea to forestall anyone carrying ballot papers or ballot box.

Calling Information ministry
Senator (Mrs.) Daisy Danjuma in her submission on EVS, lamented that its introduction seems inappropriate due to time left for enlightenment before the 2007 election, so as to enable Nigerians understand the intrigues.

What matters now is aggressive enlightenment from every angle and mostly by Information Ministry led by Mr. Frank Nweke Jnr. This should not be left alone to INEC and redistribution of national ID cards should also commence immediately.

Time it is said waits for no man and a child begins to master the act of walking by standing and falling; thus its not out of place if Nigeria starts e-voting now or if Mr. President vetos EVS at this time; 137 years after it was first proposed in US.

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