Nigeria: #NigeriaDecides2019 - Why Elections May Record High Number of Void Votes

(file photo)
23 February 2019

Time: 12:11am Polling Unit: 012 Ward: 05 - Mahin 3 Local Government: Ilaje Senatorial District/State: Ondo South Senatorial District/Ondo state Info: Elections are going on smoothly, the PO said. As at the time of visit however, there was no one on the queue. The PO revealed that he had exhausted almost three booklets of ballot paper, even though the election started a bit late. He also added that there were a few issues with the card reader, but all issues were resolved.

Some voters in Abuja have complained about the inadequacies in Saturday's voting process that may unfortunately lead to high number of void votes in the presidential and National Assembly elections.

A key problem is the unwieldy size of the ballot papers that makes inks inadvertently smear multiple political parties' boxes after voting.

Ballot papers with ink on more than a single political party are usually nullfied.

The ballot papers for the presidential election are particularly lenghty becuase of the huge number of political parties contesting the elections.

Although some parties said they had withdrawn their candidates before the polls, the Independent National Electoral Commission printed 73 parties on the ballot papers that was in use Saturday.

A voter who identified herself as Madam Ngozi, at the Wuse Zone 2 Polling Unit 007, said after voting the ballot paper could not be folded in because it smeared another party's box thereby voiding the vote.

She said people were folding the paper the other way round, thereby exposing the parties for others to see what was meant to see a private process.

"We were told to fold the ballot papers inside after voting, but this is smearing the paper, and showing in another party box. And if we fold outside the people and party agent can see who you vote, you can see the party agents there, it is not right," she said.

Another voter at the at same polling unit, who said his name should not be mentioned, deplored the size of the ballot paper.

"The long ballot paper is not a good idea. Apart from the fact that you have to start looking for the party you intend voting for, folding it is also a risk, because you have to wait and blow it dry, if not your vote can be void. Putting such elongated ballot paper into the conventional ballot box size can cause most of the casted votes to be void," he said.

"My vote is my privacy, I do not need everyone seeing it."

At the Government Secondary School, Wuse Zone 3, Polling Unit 008, some of the voters were folding the ballot paper outwards.

Other challenges

There are other factors that may also lead to void votes, our reporters said based on observations at multiple polling units.

At the polling unit in Sun City, Galadinmawa Abuja, our reporter observed that some voters, apparently due to poor voter education, wrongly placed the ballot papers for the Senate in the boxes meant for the House of Representatives, and vice versa.

Some mistakenly allowed the ink on their hands stain the ballot table, thereby staining ballot papers laid on the table by other voters.

There were also complaints of the boxes for each political party being too small for fingerprints, raising the possibility of inks spilling to other parties.

The governor of Plateau state, Simon Lalong, who voted at Nyak Ward, Ajikamai in Shendam local government, raised a similar complaint with the paper.

"I was trying to look to be sure that I got my party, I had to look two or three times, they should make it very bold so that we can see very well," he said.

At the Sun City polling unit, INEC and parties officials who tried to go round educating people on how to properly handle the papers and the boxes, soon got tired.

Void votes and previous elections

Before the election, there had been concerns about the length of the ballot papers and the numbers of political parties that would be printed on it.

In the 2015 elections, there were 844,590 void votes. The number of void votes also posed a challenge at the recently conducted Osun state gubernatorial election.

Such huge number could prove a game changer in deciding the elections.

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