A Bill to amend the Electoral Act 2010 and to make provision for electronic voting and direct transmission of results from polling units to Central Database was Wednesday read for the second time in Senate.
The Bill titled: “A Bill for an Act to amend the Electoral Act (NO. 6), 2010 and for other related matters, 2019” was sponsored by the Deputy President of the Senate, Ovie Omo-Agege and also co-sponsored by Senator Abubakar Kyari (Borno North).
Omo-Agege in his lead debate noted that the National Assembly has a constitutional gatekeeping role for the nation’s democracy.
He said that the amendment is being sought to strengthen and protect the nation’s democracy for the good of all, irrespective of partisan or political persuasions.
He said 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.”
He said that the Bill “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 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.”
He said that the Bill also mandated the INEC “to accommodate new technologies in the accreditation of voters during elections, as repeatedly called for by 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.”
A crucial aspect of the Bill is its provision for electronic voting.
The Bill repealed Section 52(2) of the principal Act and introduced a new subsection (2) which reads: “The Commission may adopt electronic voting or any other method of voting in any election it conducts as it may deem fit.”
The Bill also mandated INEC to operate an electronic database into which all results in an election should be transmitted.
It also stipulated 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.
According to the Bill, “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.
“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.”
The Bill also barred 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,” it said.
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.”
The Bill provided that “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 bill has also cut the nomination fees charged by political parties. Presidential aspirants are to pay not more than N10 million while governorship aspirants are to pay N5million.
“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,” the Bill stated.
It was learned that many Senators are not agreeable to the new clause which permits INEC to use any other method it deems fit during voting and may delete that option during the consideration of the bill.
The current Electoral Act completely prohibits the use of electronic voting as it states: “The use of the electronic voting machine, for the time being, is prohibited.”
In his contribution, a former Ogun State Governor, Ibikunle Amosun, noted that improving on the nation’s electoral experience required serious amendments to the Electoral Act.
The Dr Abubakar Bukola Saraki-led Eight National Assembly had attempted the amendment of the Electoral Act that failed to get presidential assent.
The Bill sought to strengthen internal democracy, reduce the cost of politics, widen political participation and the conduct of free fair and credible elections through technological innovations and an electronic database.
However, there were concerns raised over the enforceability of some of its provisions.
President Muhammadu Buhari, in declining assent to the bill, had 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.”