6 April 2009

Nigeria: NCS Identifies Election Flaws, Canvasses Use of E-Voting Machines

Lagos — Nigerian Computer Society (NCS), the umbrella body for all IT professionals in the country, has come up with an idea that it says will speed up electoral reforms, and put an end to electoral malpractices in the country, through the use of advanced technology.

Addressing a press conference in Lagos last week, the IT professional body lamented the ugly trend that have bedevilled past elections in the country, blaming them on the manner and processes, in which such elections were held.

President of NCS, Prof. Chris Uwadia, explained that all manner of election rigging and delay in the release of election results will be something of the past, should Nigerians begin to use available technology that will make subsequent elections easy for the electorate.

According to him, the use of electronic voting machines, known as e-voting machines, will be the best technology that will bring about accurate and early results across the country.

The association called on the National Assembly to consider the amendment of the country's electoral laws to accommodate the use of e-voting machines in the next elections.

The association is of the view that early amendment of the laws will help in real-time use of e-voting machine in the next elections.

Supporting the views of NCS, Director of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Mr. Emmanuel Akem, said it has become necessary to adopt the e-voting system as many other countries have done.

According to him, every nation depends on technology in leveraging their economies, and Nigeria should not be an exemption. "If adopted, it will not only check election malpractices, but will also help in the smooth conduct of every election," Akem said.

Determined to help Nigeria have hitch-free elections, NCS recently had a joint retreat with INEC in Asaba; the aim was to identify electoral problems and proffer solutions to them.

A communiqu released at the press conference in Lagos, explained that the retreat falls within the mandate of the NCS to collaborate and partner with government agencies in proposing and implementing IT-driven solutions for the country.

NCS was established in 1978 with the aim of promoting the advancement of Computer Science, Information Technology and systems and their applications and deployment to professional practice in education, government, military and industry.

The retreat, which was the first of its kind between NCS and any government agency, was attended by important personalities and dignitaries from the NCS, INEC, representative of the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, representatives of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) and representatives of the Director General, National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA).

The opening session was graced by the Governor of Delta State, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, Speaker of the Delta State House of Assembly, the Secretary to the Delta State Government and some of Commissioners.

Presentations were made by a team of the INEC staff on the status of INEC ICT infrastructure status, challenges on the deployment of electronic voting system and some of the proposed solutions. The presentations by the team of the NCS members analysed the best practices on Electronic voting with respect to verifiable experiences, from several countries. The papers also focused on possible solutions to the challenges highlighted by the INEC team. Several IT vendors took to the stands to demonstrate electronic voting systems and solutions to the participants.

Some of the challenges associated with the current voting system as identified by the retreat include: mass thumb printing of ballot papers; ballot stuffing; snatching of ballot boxes; impersonation of voters' errors due to manual collation of results; multiple registration, among others.

The retreat noted that the challenges could be surmounted with the adoption of electronic voting system and recognised that INEC has an existing communication backbone based on satellite communication technology. The network, it said, consists of a satellite Gateway (Control Centre), located at the INEC headquarters and terminals installed at remote locations (INEC state offices and all the Local Government Areas of the Federation).

The retreat, however, noted that some of the terminals at the remote locations have been vandalised. In this regard, the retreat recommended the replacement of the redundant and inactive terminals with portable and mobile terminals and the deployment of additional terminals during periods of elections.

The retreat recognised that the cost of the space segment on the network has huge financial implications. The Retreat therefore recommends that INEC should subscribe to the size of the space segment needed for its operational purposes during non-election years while the requirement should be scaled up during election year to meet the demands for the election results collation and dissemination.

The retreat also recognised that INEC has existing systems to capture, transmit, collate, review and approve results at the INEC state offices and the National Headquarters Result Management Centre.

The retreat equally recommends that INEC should explore the use of the GSM Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) and General Pack Radio Service (GPRS) technologies to complement the existing light weight encrypted secure file socket transmission for election result transmission and collation.

The retreat witnessed presentations of different electronic voting solutions and thereafter made it clear that its mandate was not to endorse any particular product but to come out with acceptable standard for electronic voting equipment that could be deployed for elections in Nigeria.

The retreat identified the challenges associated with electronic voting system as machine failures; vote flipping; possibility of inaccurate transmission of election results; and usability problems.

The retreat, however, noted that the challenges are surmountable with contemporary technologies and insisted that electronic voting system offers the best available option to prevent election manipulation and to assure the integrity and sanctity of each vote that is cast.

The retreat therefore recommended a system based on consensus protocol which will allow for three confirmatory evidence/ witnesses / channels for each vote cast.

The retreat recognised the need for integrity of the transmitted data and therefore recommends the adoption of distributed encryption technique for purposes of secured data transmission. The distributed encryption technique entails that the encrypted keys are held by more than one person.

It re-emphasised the importance of a comprehensive and accurate registered voter data base and therefore recommended that this critical national asset must be well secured to provide the necessary platform for a reliable electoral system.

The retreat identified the need for INEC to partner with the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), Federal Road Safety Commission, Immigration Services, Pension Fund Administrators and other relevant government agencies to develop a comprehensive and harmonized national database.

This, it said, will allow any authorised stakeholder to have access to information relevant to its needs and operations, from a single point of entry.

The retreat recommended that any e-voting machine that INEC might consider for deployment for the electoral process in Nigeria must have the features such as ability to capture at least 3-forms of confirmatory evidence for each vote cast; interface for real-time/wireless transmission of data; facility for accurate authentication of voter's information; must be fool-proof tamper-proof and weather-proof to perform under any condition; provision for verifiable audit trail; provision that allows voters to confirm that their votes have been recorded as cast; voice prompt that could be customized in any Nigerian dialect; provision for automatic and periodic uploading of election results while voting is in progress; and that the data encryption algorithm must be based on distributed encryption method.

At the end of the deliberation, the retreat recommended that a follow-up retreat be organised in Abuja within the first quarter of 2009 among NCS, INEC, NIMC and the National Assembly.

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