Elections: Experts Canvass Stakeholders Engagement In Technology Deployment

Elections: Experts Canvass Stakeholders Engagement In Technology Deployment

Experts at the ongoing International Conference in Abuja with the theme Opportunities And Challenges In The Use Of Technology In Elections: Experiences From West And Southern Africa, have admonish the Electoral Management Bodies (EMBs) on the need for proper engagement of stakeholders before deploying any new technology so as not to end in some fiasco.

Experts at the ongoing International Conference in Abuja with the theme Opportunities And Challenges In The Use Of Technology In Elections: Experiences From West And Southern Africa, have admonish the Electoral Management Bodies (EMBs) on the need for proper engagement of stakeholders before deploying any new technology so as not to end in some fiasco.

Pointing out the essence of stimulating the trust and confidence of the electorate, they also argue for adequate time to test the equipment so that the stakeholders can get acquinted with the technology. They want EMBs to deepen public enlightenment programmes in order to galvanize stakeholders on the same page. They also stress proper training of both staff, elections observers and the media on the use of technology.

Putting it aptly, Mr Wanyonyi Wafula Chebukati, chairperson, Independent Electoral and Boundary Commission (IEBC) of Kenya says “technology does not operate in a vacuum and neither does it operate itself, there is an intrinsic interface with people”. He implores EMBs to ensure that any deployment of technology is backed by law in order to avert the situation that happened in Nigeria where the courts nullified the use of the card reader on the grounds that the electoral Act did not provide for it at the time.

In Sierra Leone also, so much was spent on the deployment of technology which was not used eventually because the politicians resisted its use. “As we use ICT, it’s important we bring our stakeholders along to ensure that they are on the same page. We invested greatly in ICT that we were not able to use”, says Mrs Miatta French, Electoral Commissioner of Sierra Leone.

ECONEC participants at the conference

Presenting a keynote address titled Electoral Trust And Integrity: Is technology An Enabler Or A Barrier?, which set the tone for the discussion at the conference, Chebukati who had the herculean task of conducting two presidential elections in a spate of two months, explains that “For technology to be an enabler in promoting electoral trust and integrity, it must be simple, accurate, verifiable, secure, accurate, transparent and understood by all stakeholders”.

Sharing this view, Executive Director, European Centre for Electoral Support (ECES), Mr Fabio Bargiacchi canvass for a period of 12 to 18 months to “choose, test and introduce technology in the elections with due cognisance of context, durability and sustainability”, calling for “pilot test cases and simulations based on appropriate technical specifications in the choice of technology”.

He is of the view that the use of more technology in elections does not translate to a more credible outcome as typified in the case of the Netherlands and Brazil. Rather, it is the perception of electoral outcomes on the basis of trust that serves as a tool of legitimisation for the acceptance of election results by all stakeholders as demonstrated in Italy, France and Germany

Mr Peter Erben, senior global electoral advisor and country director, Ukraine, International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) argues that the benefits that electoral technology promises is yet to be fulfilled given the “vulnerabilities, misconceptions, suspicions and the various actions by state and non-state actors in delegitimizing elections”.

He calls for good judgement and common sense based on the principle of trust and transparency in the choice and use of technology in elections. He also canvases the importance of technology in the conduct of vote audit and in the collation and transmission of results, while stressing the need to balance the requirement for transparency with the secrecy of ballot.

Ms Eva Palmans, head of programmes, ECES is of the opinion that “If we do not engage the stakeholders when introducing technology, we may be steering the path to crisis”. Palmans who facilitated group two that evaluated the Use of Technology, Public Outreach, Enlightenment and Election Observation during the break out session, says, “We need specific trainings for election observers, CSOs and the mediato bring everyone to the same page. It’s also important to use ICT in voters awareness campaigns using the social media, facebook twitter etc”, she says.

General Ishola Williams rtd, who chaired session four which focus on the Use of Technology in the Conduct of Elections: Voting, Result Collation and Transmission, says the issue of trust remains critical in elections in Africa as the people do not see any incentive in observing their civic duties since the political elite are increasingly not responsive to their yearnings and aspirations. Even when many countries in Africa deploy technologies that have not been used in the developed world, they are still not enough to sustain the confidence of people.

“We do not trust each other in Africa and that’s why technology is not working here. Elections are becoming unpopular amongst the people, we are begging them the voters. Money also plays a big role in elections. Nobody wins any elections here if he does not have money. This raises ethical issues”, he says.

Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof Mahmood Yakubu however counsel that EMBs are “better prepared in making the choice of the appropriate and cost-effective technology that will increase public confidence in the electoral process and further protect the sanctity and integrity of the ballot”.

As part of the attempt to engage the people, the Resident Electoral Commissioner for Ebonyi State, Professor Godswill Obioma says the commission is exploiting the town hall gatherings prevalent in the eastern parts of Nigeria. “We are reaching out to the people during town hall meetings”, Obioma, a professor of Mathematics and former executive director, National Education Research and Development Council (NERDC) says.

Speaking also in the same vein, Resident Electoral Commissioner for Adamawa State, Mr Gaidam Kassim discloses that INEC in Nigeria is ready to pay anyone with videos of electoral malpractices at the polling units.

But one of the participants posits that INEC doesn’t need to pay anyone to get video evidences as all it has to do is to reach out to the citizenry on its campaign and many will freely churn out video evidences without seeking any reward. “Many will readily provide such information without looking up to any reward”. “What INEC does with the evidence is really what’s crucial”, he says, citing the case of the poor handling of the case of underage voters in Kano which didn’t go down well with some stakeholders.

National Electoral Commissioner, Malam Mohammed Haruna in his intervention, caution on the need to be careful with video evidences particularly against the background of fake news that have taken over the social media space. He says that no credible evidence has so far been provided to authenticate the allegations of underage voting in Kano.

It was the consensus that EMBs need to borrow from the example of Kenya which has carried election campaigns to schools and Nigeria which has set up election clubs in schools as part of a deliberate effort to enlist the young people.

Participants observe that technology is just a tool and therefore not an end in itself. It is therefore important to carefully consider the electoral context in which technology is used. It is also necessary to consider the impact of introducing new technologies. An evaluation is needed to assess impacts of the change on all stakeholders who range from the politicians, the political parties, the media, election observes, the electoral officials, civil society organisations and the voters.

There’s also the need to maintain transparency and ensure ethical behaviour while adopting new technology. Unauthorised persons must be prevented from accessing, altering, or downloading sensitive electoral data. It is vital to test the accuracy of results produced by the use of technology. There must be ways to test and verify that data are recorded properly and that the technological systems are trustworthy. Finally it is important to ensure that the use of technology is consistent with extant laws.

EMBs in the West and Southern African regions who are sharing ideas at the conference have deployed technology in one way or another to improve on the processes, administration and outcome of elections ranging from training and capacity-building for electoral officials, promotion of inclusivity in the electoral process (youths, women, PWDs, IDPs and out-of-country/Diaspora voters), the biometric registration of voters, delineation of electoral constituencies, geo-referencing of existing as well as the creation of new polling units.

Other areas of intervention include the establishment of robust electronic databases, accreditation of voters during elections, actual voting and the speedy and more accurate collation/transmission of results. According to the INEC Chairman, “The deployment of technology has also empowered citizens, more than ever before, to organise, mobilise and protect their mandates using various social media platforms to track result transmission and undertake Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT)”.

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