Senate moves to guarantee e-voting

⦁ As Abaribe blames Buhari for past efforts

Big relief for the electoral process is in the offing as a bill to guarantee electronic voting and transfer of results passed second reading on the floor of the Senate.

Tagged, ‘A Bill for an Act to amend the Electoral Act, 2020’, it was sponsored by Deputy Senate President and senator representing Delta Central, Senator Omo-Agege.

The Senate on Wednesday concluded debate on the general principles of the Bill and referred it to its committee on the  Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) with a directive to report back within four weeks.

When passed into law, it will give legal teeth to direct transmission of results from polling units to Central Database.

Presenting the lead debate the Bill sponsor, Omo-Agege,  submitted that the responsibility of the National Assembly to protect constitutional order “starts with ensuring that our elections are free, fair and credible”.

“To achieve this, our electoral laws must be sound and up to date in order to respond adequately to new challenges that come with changing times and human behaviours.”

He  told his colleagues that the Bill is “a response in part to a plethora of Supreme Court decisions directly or indirectly calling upon the National Assembly to act pointing out that the apex Court has persistently done this regarding INECs introduction of modern technologies into the electoral process, especially accreditation of voters.”

The  Bill, Omo-Agege further pointed out “seeks to ensure that the Act clearly forbids members of political parties from taking up employment in INEC;mandate INEC to publish the Voters Register for public scrutiny at every Registration Area and on its website at least seven (7) days before a general election; mandate INEC to suspend an election in order to allow a political party that lost its candidate before or during an election to conduct a fresh primary to elect a replacement or new candidate”

It also clearly mandated INEC “to accommodate new technologies in the accreditation of voters during elections, as repeatedly called for the Supreme Court; define over voting to include situations where total votes cast also exceed total number of accredited voters; provide greater clarity and transparency in the process of reaching the final announcement of election results, starting with sorting of ballots, counting of votes, etc.”

Omo-Agege also explained that: “The amendment mandates INEC to record and keep relevant detailed information of results sheets, ballot papers and other sensitive electoral materials used in an election, with clear consequences for violation; enact a new Section 87 on Nomination of Candidates by Parties for Elections by prescribing maximum fees payable by aspirants and restricting nomination criteria strictly to relevant provisions of the Constitution.

“In compliance with Order 77(3) of our Standing Rules, I state that this Bill has no financial implications. Accordingly, there is no accompanying financial compendium. For the greater good of this great Republic, I hereby humbly move for the Second Reading of this Bill to be taken.”

The Bill also compelled INEC to operate an electronic database into which all results in an election should be transmitted.

It also stipulates that data of accredited voters must be transmitted to the central database upon the conclusion of the accreditation of voters which would be done through the use of the card reader.

“At the end of accreditation of voters, the presiding officer shall transmit the voter accreditation data by secure mobile electronic communication to the central database of the commission kept at the national headquarters of the commission.

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“Any presiding officer who contravenes this provision shall be liable, on conviction, to a minimum of imprisonment of at least five years without an option of fine.”

It prevents INEC from shutting down the central database until all petitions arising from the elections are determined by a tribunal or court.

“In respect of data of accreditation of voters, including polling unit results, for an election, the commission shall not shut down its central database kept at its national headquarters until all election petitions and appeals pertaining to that election are heard and determined by a tribunal or court.”

On the specific provisions for the adoption of the central database, the Bill seeks amendment of section 65 of the Electoral Act 2010 by introducing a “National Electronic Register of Election Results.”

It states: “The commission shall compile, maintain and update on a continuous basis, a register of election results to be known as the National Electronic Register of Election Results which shall be a database of election results from each polling unit, including collated results of each election conducted by the commission.

“National Electronic Register of Election Results shall be kept by the commission at its national headquarters and any person or political party may obtain from the commission, on payment of reasonable fees as may be determined by the commission, a certified true copy of any election result kept in the National Electronic Register of Election Results for the federation, a state, local government, area council, ward or polling unit, as the case may be and the certified true copy may be in printed or electronic format.”

The reform bill has also slashed the nomination fees charged by political parties. Presidential aspirants are to pay not more than N10 million while governorship aspirants are to pay N5million.

Specifically, the bill states: “For the purpose of nomination of candidates for election, the total fees, charges, dues and any payment howsoever named imposed by a political party on an aspirant shall not exceed: N150,000 for a ward councillorship aspirant in the FCT; N250,000 for an area council chairmanship aspirant in the FCT; N500,000 for a house of assembly aspirant; N1,000,000 for a House of Representatives aspirant; N2,000,000 for a senatorial aspirant; N5,000,000 for a Governorship aspirant; and N10,000,000 for a presidential aspirant.”

Tribune Online checks revealed that the 8th Assembly made strenuous efforts for electoral reforms with the 2019 Electoral Act Bill.

In declining his assent to the Bill, President Buhari claimed it would create confusion on which legislation to apply on the eve of a general election.

He said: “I am declining assent to the Bill principally because I am concerned that passing a new electoral bill this far into the electoral process for the 2019 general elections, which commenced under the 2015 Electoral Act, could create some uncertainty about the applicable legislation to govern the process.

“Any real or apparent change to the rules this close to the election may provide an opportunity for disruption and confusion in respect of which law governs the electoral process.”

The Senate Majority Leader, who spoke with newsmen shortly after plenary, accused President Buhari of frustrating electoral reform initiated by the 8th Assembly and pleaded for sincerity to ensure the passage of the new bill.

He noted that if the amended electoral act was passed into law,  the nation would have been saved the trauma of the violence that trailed weekend governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states.

“If those bills were signed, I don’t think what happened in Kogi where the number of votes in a local government was more than the number of PVCs and INEC still accepted the results. That will tell you the reason why we need the bill and we are going to do everything to do our own job which is to do the legislation and pass it along to the president for assent. It will now be his responsibility to listen to the yearnings of Nigerians for a credible election because all we want is a credible election. We want people elected on the basis of their performance and campaigns and let it be that the votes will count.”

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