Amidst COVID-19, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has said that Polling Units shall be redesigned by the Commission to ensure substantial compliance with the COVID-19 protocols established by health authorities. INEC noted that, among other things, the redesign would emphasise social distancing, general hygienic conduct and enforcement of COVID-19 prevention protocols. The commission disclosed this in a ‘Policy on Conducting Elections in the Context of the COVID-19 Pandemic’ signed by INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, released on Monday.
The INEC chairman noted that on election day, the use of face masks shall be mandatory at Polling Units (PUs) and all election locations, stating that any voter without a face mask shall be turned away from the Polling Unit. “However, the Assistant Presiding Officer (APO) II in checking the Register of Voters may request removal of mask to prevent voter impersonation. “There shall be a two-tier queuing system at the Polling Unit – one outside and the other in the voting area. Voters will be brought into the voting area periodically to prevent overcrowding. “Tags and twines may be used to ensure crowd control and maintenance of social distance. “In order to accommodate additional activities in setting up the PU due to COVID-19, polls shall now commence at 8.30 am and close at 2.30 pm. “Anybody on the outer queue by 2.30 pm shall be allowed to vote, in line with the Commission’s regulations.
“Prior to the commencement of polls, the Presiding Officer or Assistant Presiding Officer (VP) shall ensure that the contents of the Voter Code of Conduct (VCC) are read out loudly to voters and that the VCC Poster is pasted at the polling unit,” Yakubu said. He stated that there should be periodic disinfection of chairs, tables and work areas, as well as adequate ventilation at the Polling Units. “The Smart Card Readers (SCR) shall be cleaned with the prescribed disinfectant after each voter’s fingerprint is read. “Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and other safety materials shall be provided for polling staff,” he said. Yakubu added that at the close of polls, polling unit staff should ensure that materials were properly disinfected, carefully packaged and that used PPE were hygienically packaged or disposed of. He explained that for purposes of collation of results after election the Commission would cluster Registration Area (RA) collation centres where feasible, in order to reduce exposure of people to the risk of COVID-19, speed up collation and reduce costs.
“In order to prevent overcrowding during collation, only one polling agent of a party on the ballot (or the candidate in person) for the election(s) shall be allowed into the collation hall,” he said. On post-election activities, Yakubu stated that for reverse logistics, election staff must ensure that used, but reusable PPEs, were carefully packaged and sent to designated collection points. “All post-election debriefings shall preferably be done electronically. Where face-to-face debriefings take place, the protocols for COVID-19 prevention shall be followed,” he said. For pre-election activities, Yakubu stated that INEC should immediately embark on review of regulations, guidelines and manuals for elections in the light of changes to the electoral process that are imminent due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Develop a Voter Code of Conduct (VCC) document detailing how voters are expected to act and conduct themselves at the polling units in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Review all Elections Information Kits to include COVID-19 information. “Expand the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES) at all levels to include NCDC (or other requisite health bodies) and National Orientation Agency (NOA) on a temporary basis,” he said. The INEC chairman mandated INEC state offices to work with local health authorities to do a health assessment of upcoming elections immediately. “Conduct immediate discussion with state governments where elections are to hold concerning lockdowns, curfews, etc, and how they might affect elections. “Ensure that Pre-Election Preparation (PEP) activities shall be conducted online preferably. “Where face-to-face activities become necessary, the protocols for COVID-19 prevention should be followed. “Pilot changes to the electoral process in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic in a by-election prior to the Edo and Ondo governorship elections in order to learn lessons where necessary,” he said. Yakubu explained that INEC has also made provision for handling and delivery of election materials.
One of the provisions, according to him, was to reduce the number of contacts during distribution. He said when Non-sensitive Materials were procured, they would be delivered directly by vendors to States or purchased by States requiring the materials and packaged according to the quantity required by Registration Area. “This will reduce the level and number of contacts during distribution,” he said.
He said that production of Sensitive Materials shall commence early to give adequate time for proper packaging and delivery. Yakubu added that to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19, the commission should reduce to a minimum interstate movement of staff, including ad hoc staff, for off-season and by-elections. “The rule shall be that only shortfalls requested by the states are filled from outside the state. As much as possible, all election staff will be sourced in-state,” the INEC chairman said.
He added that in the establishment of voting points, in order to reduce the number of points in a Polling Unit to be monitored and controlled for COVID-19 compliance, the threshold for Voting Points shall be increased from 500/750 to 1,000/1,250.