Agenda 2023 Editorial Series: INEC, Build That E-Voting App!

Chairman, INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu
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By Editorial Board

The newly minted Electoral Act 2022 empowers the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to deploy any technology it deems necessary for the conduct of a credible election nationwide.

   Herein lies a veritable provision to kill off a number of willed criminalities by unscrupulous politicians and inadvertent systemic flaws in the Nigerian electoral process, including humongous cost incurred by the country to conduct elections, voter’s apathy, vote suppression, ballot-snatching, election rigging and allied anomalies, etc.

  This newspaper is of the view that the silver bullet to check the above-listed cocktail of ills and others undermining the sanctity of the Nigerian Vote is for the Information and Communication Technology (ICT)-savvy INEC under Prof. Mahmood Yakubu to build a robust, secure, easy-to-use electronic voting Application (E-Voting App) for the conduct of the 2023 General Elections.

  The proposed e-voting app is suggested without prejudice to either the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BIVAS) or the physical voting system at polling units across the country, which INEC already plans to deploy for the 2023 General Elections.

   The e-voting app we propose for INEC could be based on popular, globally spread operating systems like Android and Windows compatible with the most basic, ubiquitous smartphone, desktop, laptop, tablet, etc, and freely downloadable for all registered voters from a dedicated, purpose-built INEC website, or the commission’s existing website.

    The app’s e-ballot paper should bear the names, symbol, etc of all registered political parties as INEC shall print on the physical ballot for the 2023 General Elections, with a click mechanism labelled “Vote” or “Click to vote” in front of each party’s name, logo, symbol, etc.

   Once a voter clicks on a particular party, the e-ballot paper could retract to display just that party with a second prompt asking the voter “Are you sure you want to vote XYZ Party?” Two click buttons labelled “Yes” and “Go back” would be built on this page of the app. A click on “Yes” should register a vote for the party/candidate while a “Go Back” should send the clicker back to the previous page.

    A voice prompt – in some indigenous languages –  could be an add-on feature of the app to aid the unlettered voter who chooses to use the app over going to the polling booth.

    INEC should also consider fitting the e-voting app with interfaces that would help the physically-challenged to interact seamlessly with it in order to cast their votes.

   Essentially, the INEC e-voting app would empower the Nigerian voter to cast his or her ballot on their preferred ICT devices from the comfort of their homes, at the click of a few buttons with a live vote counter visible to all on the app and to any casual observer on the INEC website.

 With regard to the visible, live vote counter/update mechanism INEC can draw inspiration from the popular micro-blogging social media app, Twitter, whose comment, retweet and like click buttons and count are instantaneous. However, voting, we stress, must be irreversible on the INEC e-voting app, unlike the Twitter features.

  The Permanent Voter’s Card (PVCs) of all voters should be synched to the e-voting app via a registered Subscriber Identification Module (SIM).

  While the SIM owner-voter should be able to vote from anywhere there exists the Nigerian phone network system, no SIM should be able to vote twice or retract, cancel, etc any vote. Any such fraudulent attempt should elicit a friendly, educative and public enlightenment message like “You have cast your ballot as a patriot. Thank you” and its equivalence in voice reprimand.

    In order not to leave any voter behind, INEC should also build a complimentary Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) code-based e-texting/voting system. Non-smartphone voters can use the USSD system to elect their preferred candidates by texting specified codes representing each of the 18 registered political parties, particular poll type (presidential, governorship, federal or state assemblies, etc) in the 2023 General Election.

The USSD voting system is commonplace in the country as reality television shows, corporate promotional schemes, etc use it. Already, millions of Nigerians are familiar with the USSD code use because they participate actively in these entertainment and consumer reward programmes.  

   The antecedents of INEC’s ICT team since the injection of the rested Card Reader of the 2015 General Elections fame and the extant BIVAS suggest that there exists the in-house competence at the commission to build the e-voting app herein proposed.

   However, it would not be out of place if INEC choses to harvest the additional app-building powers and expertise of competent ICT firms to build the e-voting app for the commission, insofar as INEC takes great care to authenticate the credibility and competence of such prospective contractors, including those currently contracted to INEC.

  With about a year to the first round of ballot in the 2023 General Election, this newspaper is of the view that INEC has enough time to build the e-voting app and test-run it to perfection.

  We suggest that the test-run should start right among the members of staff at INEC and expanded to include critical stakeholders in the civil society movement first, and eventually tested out in controlled experimental environments in public places like plazas and shopping malls as well as in open, famous markets.  These would combine not only to prove the efficiency of the INEC e-voting app but also serve, by fortuitous default, as mass voter education for the 2023 General Elections by INEC and other stakeholders.

   Well-intentioned critics – and those with bad motives since the e-voting app threatens their stranglehold on political power and their illicit gains from it –   might raise the very real spectre of hacking the app. However, we note that while that danger exists, many democracies – big and small – have well secured e-voting channels. INEC can tap from the experiences of these to secure its app, too.

   In any case, hacking an app demands a high level of ICT sophistication unavailable to hoodlums who desecrate the votes of the Nigerian people via ballot-snatching, ballot-stuffing, etc. The gains far outweigh the risks.

   Besides, hacking is easier said than done as non-ICT literate citizens tend to say. If it is piece of cake as the loquacious would have us believe, why have hackers not hacked all of us out of our bank deposits in the country? Why should they leave trillions of naira alone and hack votes for pittance from criminal politicians?  

  What’s more, such acts of cyber-criminality often leave unalterable digital footprints that lead back to the hacker and right to the very device used for the nefarious activity.

While the criminally-minded among the Nigerian political class might indeed try to subvert the people’s will in 2023 by attempting to hack the proposed INEC app, such hoodlums in politics –  whom all people of goodwill should unite and to push out of the political terrain by all means legally permissible – would eventually be found out as they would only have one major aim – to add unearned votes to their own in order to win fraudulently. However, the app would be built to flag such breaches immediately they are about to occur. Detection is not also impossible even after the fact of the crime against the people.

  One or two examples made of such unscrupulous politicians – goaled according to the laws guiding electoral malpractices in the country –  should inspire others with such devilish motives to have a rethink, or go down too.

It is not difficult for the progressive, forward-thinking mind to envision the radical transformation of the Nigerian electoral system if INEC deploys the proposed e-voting app for the 2023 General Elections.

  Over time – we dare predict that it would actually be immediate –  the e-voting app would become the preferred mode of voting in Nigeria. This would save INEC, voters, other Nigerians and the whole country a lot of troubles currently associated with the nation’s electoral system.

 Nigeria would save trillions of naira that would otherwise be voted for cash-guzzling election-related activities like printing millions of ballot papers and transporting them, mobilizing the security forces away from their primary duties of securing the nation to securing ballot boxes. The saved funds would be available to fix the country’s crumbling public infrastructure and services like the health and education system.

  Lives would be saved too as killings associated with polling-day attacks in the course of ballot-snatching/stuffing, voters’ suppression, etc would be made obsolete since most Nigerians would simply vote on their phones, etc at home and in secret too.     

 Moreover, when the Nigerian electorate embraces the INEC e-voting app fully, the primitive shutdown of the Nigerian economy on polling days and the colossal loss of business revenues incurred by individuals, local, state and federal governments would have to stop – to the prosperity of all concerned.

 Also, the INEC e-voting app would confer the much-sought integrity on the nation voting process, encourage good people to run for public office in higher percentage than obtainable currently as they are assured of a fairer balloting system reflective of their campaign efforts.

The Nigerian literary icon, Chinua Achebe, had correctly in our view identified the leadership question as the bane of Nigeria’s development.

   Only good people, and not knaves masquerading as messianics, would bring about the rapid development Nigeria.

  And only a technology-driven voting system can put good people in public offices as base elements have successfully captured the Nigerian election system as it is today. And they are poised to capture the country and its resources, again, in the 2023 General Elections.

  The Prof. Mahmood Yakubu-led INEC owes it as a patriotic duty to this country and a moral burden to the suffering masses of Nigerians alive as well as generations yet unborn to stop them, legitimately, through a radical infusion of cutting-edge technologies into the 2023 elections.

   Therefore, The Dream Daily Newspaper says: INEC, please build that e-voting app!     

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