Electoral Act: New bill mandates INEC on electronic collation of results, Smart Card Reader

•We can only fix governance when we reform electoral process ― Gbajabiamila

The bold initiative by the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC) to experiment with an electronic collation of results has received the blessing of a new Bill before the National Assembly.

Indications to this development emerged at the National Assembly one day public hearing on A Bill to Repeal the Electoral Act No 6, 2010( as amended ) and Enact the INEC Act 2020.

Section 52(2) of the Bill sighted by Nigerian Tribune says “The Commission may adopt electronic voting or any other method of voting in any election it conducts as it may deem fit.”

Checks by Tribune Online revealed that the Chairman of INEC, Professor Mahmoud Yakubu whose tenure for a fresh term of five years was officially renewed on Wednesday by President Muhammadu Buhari had since experimented with the electronic collation of results in the governorship elections conducted in Edo and Ondo States last September and October, respectively.

Prior to the governorship elections, Professor Yakubu in a document tagged, “Elections in the Context of COVID-19 pandemic,” released in May had hinted Nigerians that his Commission was contemplating electronic collation of results, as a safety measure to safeguard lives of its staff, candidates and the electorate.

Yakubu said his new initiative was a response “to the growing demand for deepening the use of technology in the electoral processes, including the introduction of electronic voting.”

He further expressed the hope that the proposed amendment of the Electoral Act by the National Assembly would accommodate his initiative.

An investigation by Tribune Online, however, revealed that the new amendment empowers the electoral umpire to deploy either electronic collation or its manual method.

Section 52(2) says “The Commission may adopt electronic voting or any other method of voting in any election it conducts as it may seem fit.”

Provision of the new Bill under “New Procedure for counting and transmission of results,” retained the status quo of counting and announcement of results at Polling Units by Presiding Officer.

Section of the “new” Bill reads in part:” At the end of voting in an election, the Presiding Officer shall:
(a) sort and thereafter count the votes at the polling unit,
(b) record the sorted and counted votes in forms or electoral documents as shall be prescribed by the Commission for this purpose,
(c) announce the result at the polling unit,
(d) transit the result of the election from the polling unit to the first level of collation of results to which the polling unit belongs in the constituency where the election is held.”

Further findings revealed that electronic voting was part of the proposals in the Electoral Amendment Act 2018 passed by the 8th National Assembly under the leadership of Bukola Saraki and Yakubu Dogara, former Senate President and Speaker, House of Representatives, respectively.

President Muhammadu Buhari, however, withdrew his Presidential Assent to give legal backing to electronic transmission of results.

The new bill, if passed into an Act makes use of Smart Card Reader compulsory for accreditation of voters before voting.

In the absence of the SCR or it malfunctions, it mandates the Presiding Officer to cancel the election at the polling unit.

A new Subsection (3) has been introduced in Section 49 of the Electoral Act 2010.

It reads:” Where a Smart Card Reader deployed for accreditation of voters fails to function in any unit and a fresh Card Reader is not deployed, the election in that unit shall be cancelled and another shall be scheduled within 24 hours.”

Speaker of the House of Representatives, Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila, represented by Honourable Peter Akpatason declared that the Green Chamber since the inception of the ninth National Assembly has been committed to electoral reforms.

Gbajabiamila who noted that lack of credibility in the electoral process has since led to public apathy said all hands must be on deck to restore faith and confidence in the electoral process in the country.

He said:” The 9th House of Representatives, in our Legislative Agenda, adopted the reform of the Electoral Act as one of our principal priorities. We did this because there are evident lapses in the way we operate our political process that needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency or else we risk a situation where Nigerians across the country lose faith in the political process. This is an outcome that we must act to prevent by all means because without faith in the political process, the government will not have the support it needs to drive change and make necessary improvements across all sectors of our national life.

“As Speaker, I have said many times in different fora, that until we fix the way we do politics in Nigeria, we cannot fix the way we run the government. And we need to fix both politics and governance before we can hope to make real progress and achieve real prosperity in our country.”

He further argued that expectations of Nigerians in instilling sanity in the election would not be achieved only by amending the Electoral Act but a review of the 1999 Constitution.

“We need also to review and improve the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. That process has begun and will continue alongside our legislative efforts on the Electoral Act.”

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