The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is to pilot the use of electronic voting machines at the earliest time possible towards full introduction of electronic voting in major elections in 2021. The commission disclosed this in a policy document titled “Policy on Conducting Elections in the Context of the COVID-19 Pandemic” signed by INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, officially released on Monday. The commission, however, clarified that such pilot scheme would not be used for Edo and Ondo governorship elections scheduled for Sept. 19 and Oct. 10, respectively.
Yakubu also disclosed the decision to suspend the Continuous Registration of Voters (CVR) for the time being to prevent the health risks associated with it in the context of COVID-19. He stressed on the need to continue to make available INEC’s electronic channels for voters to check their registration status. “The Commission recognizes the critical role that ICT will play in an electoral process that is being vastly reshaped by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the growing demands by Nigerians for the deepening of the use of technology in our elections. “Consequently, the Commission shall continue to apply relevant, value-for-money technology in all aspects of the electoral process and election management,” he said.
According to Yakubu, the policy also includes the creation of e-platforms for certain INEC activities, including accreditation of observer groups and deployment of their field observers. He said activities to be conducted online also include submission of nomination forms by political parties for candidates, tracking and reporting of campaigns and campaign finance by/for candidates and political parties. Others include submission of party agents lists by political parties, adding that in accreditation and deployment of observers, the Commission shall request and receive applications for election observation exclusively online. “Reduce the number of accredited observer groups based on past performance and compliance with Commission’s guidelines for election observation. “This is to reduce crowding and therefore health risks at election venues. Reduce the number of field observers,” he said. On health issues, Yakubu noted that the most immediate challenge that COVID-19 poses to the electoral process was health-related.
He stated that in order to protect voters, election officials and other stakeholders in the electoral process, the commission shall implement some measures. They include supply and use infrared thermometers at the Registration Area Collation Centres, the Local Government Area Collation Centres and the State Collation Centres. Also, “the use of face masks is mandatory for all involved in the election process and must be worn at all election locations. “The Commission shall provide face masks for all election officials; and Alcohol-based hand sanitizers will be provided for election officials at the polling units. “Methylated Spirit and cotton wool will be provided for the disinfection of the Smart Card Readers (SCRs) after the fingerprint of each voter is read. “The rules of physical distancing shall be enforced at all election activities including stakeholder engagements, training, queuing at Polling Units, amongst others.”
Yakubu added that all protocols issued by the NCDC, Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, State Committees on COVID-19 and other relevant health authorities should be observed by election officials and all stakeholders. “The Commission shall work with the PTF and health authorities to have in place a system of voluntary COVID-19 testing for INEC staff before and after deploying for elections,” he said.
The INEC chairman added that the commission shall work with the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 and health authorities in the states having elections to develop a protocol for dealing with persons who show symptoms of COVID-19 at election venues. “Where an election official, a voter or any other person present at an election venue shows symptoms of COVID-19: “The prevailing protocol shall be observed; the person must be isolated from other persons at the venue; the attention of the security personnel should be drawn; “The dedicated number for COVID – 19 emergencies shall be called; and, if the affected person is an election official, the Commission must be notified through the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC),” Yakubu stated.