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AN ENHANCED WEB-BASED ELECTRONIC VOTING SYSTEM
1.1 Background to the Study
Conducting a credible election in Nigeria is increasingly becoming a very difficult task, and this has adversely affected the socio-political and economic well-being of the nation and its citizenry. Encyclopedia Britannica defined an election as a formal decision-making process by which a population chooses an individual to hold public office. Elections have been the usual mechanism by which modern representative democracy has operated since the 17th century. Elections may fill offices in the legislature, sometimes in the executive and judiciary, and for regional and local government. This process is also used in many other private and business organizations, from clubs to voluntary associations and corporations.
According to Ginsberg (2007), Election is the procedure that allows members of an organization or community to choose representatives who will hold positions of authority within it. The most important elections select the leaders of local, state, and national governments. The chance to decide who will govern at these levels, serves as an opportunity for the public to make choices about the policies, programs, and future directions of government action. Election is a critical component of any democratic society. As such, Nigeria returned to democratic rule and engagement with the democratic process led to the conduct of its general elections in 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015. General elections are elections conducted in the federation at large for federal and state elective positions.
Election is said to be credible when the outcome of such election is acceptable to generality of the people especially if the loser demonstrates the spirit of sportsmanship occasioned by the electoral process transparency. Free, fair and credible elections are central to electoral democracy and provide vital means of empowering citizens to hold their leaders accountable. In a multi-party democracy, it behoves both the elected and appointed government officials at all levels of the political system to render periodic account of their stewardship to the populace. However, accountability of public officials in Nigeria has been undermined by the fact that elections in the country are perennially fraught with irregularities. The democratization of politics has been unsuccessful in arresting electoral frauds perpetrated by different political parties and megalomaniac politicians. According to Nnoli (2003), “elections are so clearly tied to the growth and development of representative democratic government that they are now generally held to be the single most important indicator of the presence or absence of such government”. They are meaningfully democratic if they are free, fair, participatory, credible, competitive and legitimate.
1.1.1 Elections in Nigeria: 1999-2007
The history of democratic elections in Nigeria especially ones that would be adjudged and accepted by the electorates as free and fair had always been a problem in the country. The 1999, 2003 and 2007 general elections, three elections conducted during this period of ten years of Nigeria’s democracy have been lampooned by many critics as far from free and fair (Ahmed 2015). At inception of the Fourth Republic, the 1999 elections were conducted under military rule. There were fundamental flaws in the elections, but Nigerians wanted to get rid of military rule and have power transferred to civilians. They tolerated and accommodated the outcome, and hoped for future improvements. The 2003 elections, unfortunately, did not represent a substantive improvement over the 1999 elections, in terms of transparency and credibility. Rather, the elections at best represented “business as usual”, in terms of inflation of votes, fraudulent declaration of results, use of armed thugs to scare away or assault voters and cart away election materials and many other irregularities and illegalities, which were committed with impunity (Jega 2015) . The election of April 2007, conducted by the existing electoral body, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) under the leadership of Maurice Iwu has been described as the worst election ever held in this country as a result of indescribable irregularities which marred the elections (Ahmed 2015)
The election itself was characterized by all manner of malpractices many of which reflected both the inefficiency and fraudulent complicity of INEC. A few examples shall suffice, late display of electoral register in violation of the Electoral Act, Omission of names of registered voters from the list, Muddling up of names of registered voters as voter’s names appeared in the wards other than the one they were expected to vote, Lack of transparency in the choice of returning officers (allegedly chosen by the ruling PDP) None or late supply of election materials, Announcement of results figures in contradiction to the number of registered voters or the number that actually voted. Many of the results were in favour of the ruling Party PDP. Refusal to furnish opposition parties or candidates result sheets and other documents that will enable them challenge their defeat in at the electoral tribunal. These malpractices were repeated with extra expertise and boldness in 2007. Partisanship and fraud became an official policy of INEC. INEC officials acted with impunity thus robbing it on the face of the helpless voters that they can do nothing. Results were announced even where no voting took place at all, in many pooling boots result sheets were deliberately not supplied. Hotels and private houses were used for thumb printing to the glare knowledge of security operatives who even aided many of the frauds Obianyo and Emesibe (2015). All the previous elections from 1999 till 2011 were all manually done but that of 2015 embraced some elements of ICT in action
1.1.2 the 2011 General Election
The process started with the re –registration of voters exercise, and the introduction of the direct data capture (DDC) machine for capturing finger prints of would be voters, among other measures put together by INEC. In all, INEC’s conduct of the 2011 April election by far surpassed their previous efforts as also confirmed by the various election observers that monitored the elections.
The 2011 general elections in Nigeria despite being applauded had some shortcomings observed before, during and after the conduct of the election. There were still cases of ballot box snatching in spite of the open/secret system of voting. There were also rampant cases of underage registration and voting. The Adhoc INEC officials who resisted the pressure to register minors and allow them vote were threatened and harassed into submission. It is amazing to have heard cases of multiple thumb-printing despite the availability of Direct Data capture machines that were used to register prospective voters electronically. Another sympathetic and traumatic aspect of the elections is the post- election violence experienced in some Northern States. According to Nigerian’s Civil Right Congress, more than five hundred were killed in the post- election violence. The most painful part of the scenario was the attack and killing of youth corps members as a result of post electoral violence.
1.1.3 The 2015 General Election in Nigeria
The 2015 general election in Nigeria saw the introduction of the permanent voter’s card (PVC) as well as the smart card reader to authenticate the number of accredited voters during the election. The introduction of technological driven voter authentication shaped the elections and gave it public acceptance. INEC’s greatest achievement was the production and distribution of high tech permanent voters card (PVC) with biometric data capable of serving the system for a long time and thus puts to rest the onerous task of always embarking on new registration exercise during tenure of a new INEC chief executive. This achievement does not in any way preclude the usual exercise of updating the register. Apart from saving the nation the high cost of constantly embarking on new registration exercise, the PVC and associated Card Reader(CR) infused a lot of credibility to the voting process given the malfeasance associated with the voting process in previous elections especially that of 2003 and 2007.
1.1.4 Smart Card Readers
The smart card reader is a technological device setup to authenticate and verify on election day a Permanent Voter Card (PVC) issued by INEC. The device uses a cryptographic technology that has ultra-low power consumption, with a single core frequency of 1.2GHz and an Android 4.2.2. Operating System (IDEA, 2011). . The INEC card reader is a portable electronic voter authentication device, configured to only read the Permanent Voter Cards issued by INEC. The card reader was designed specifically for the accreditation process, authentication of eligible voters before voting. The machine was configured to only read the PVCs of a particular polling unit and can only work on election day. The card reader uses a highly secure and cryptographic technology that is used commonly in devices that need to perform secure transactions, such as paying terminals. The device is positioned by its operator (usually a trained INEC official) to read the embedded chip on the PVC, this procedure display the information of the voter, followed by fingerprinting. It usually takes about 10 to 20 seconds to validate a voter. The card reader has the ability to perform the above described functions as well as keeping a tally of the total numbers of voters accredited at the polling unit and forwarding the information to a central database server over a Global System for Mobile (GSM) network (Engineering Network Team, 2015).
Figure 1.0: INEC Card Reader (Source: Blank News Online, 2015)
Concerned about the massive electoral fraud witnessed in the past general elections in Nigeria, INEC deployment of the card reader in 2015 general elections was to ensure a credible, transparent, free and fair election in order to deepen Nigeria’s electoral democracy. However, the use of this electronic device in the 2015 general elections generated debate among stakeholders before, during and after the elections .Okonji, (2015) writes that despite the confidence of INEC in the use of card reader in the 2015 general elections, the machines came with some challenges, even though the elections have been widely adjudged as being successful. For instance, during the March 28 Presidential and National Assembly elections across the country, the card readers malfunctioned in several polling units, a situation that polling units.
The challenges ranged from rejection of permanent voter’s card (PVC) by the card readers, inability to capture the biometrics from finger tips, to irregular capturing and fast battery drainage. INEC officials have to abandon their polling units and took the card readers back to their office for proper configuration. In order to salvage the situation, which was almost becoming frustrating, INEC ordered the use of manual process for accreditation, But before the order could go round the states and local government areas, it was already late to conduct accreditation and actual voting in some areas, a situation that forced INEC to extend the exercise to the next day in all affected areas. Adegoke, (2015) on his own opined that the use of card reading machine in Nigerian electoral process has become a highly-contentious issue, especially amongst the political class, such that Nigerians are asking if the card reading machine is a failure or success. In essence, there is a sharp divide amongst the exponents and the antagonists of this innovation. While the promoters strongly feel that card reader is the best thing for the country—as such will, to an extent, minimize electoral malpractices, boost the image of the country amongst the comity of nations and give Nigeria a credible election. The antagonists, however, feel, amongst other things, that Nigeria has not yet mature for such innovation. On its own, the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) argued that in as much as they are not afraid of its usage, INEC must ensure that no Nigerian voter was disenfranchised by the machine
1.1.5 Electronic Voting: Electronic voting (also known as e-voting) is voting using electronic means to record or count votes. . With the rapid expansion of the Internet, electronic voting appears to be a less expensive alternative to the conventional paper voting. Electronic voting overcomes the problem of geographic distribution of the voters as well as vote administrators. It also reduces the chances of errors in the voting process. Electronic voting technology can speed the counting of ballots, reduce the cost of paying staff to count votes manually and can provide improved accessibility for disabled voters. This system ensures that people can get official election results within hours, instead of days or even weeks. Forward-thinking countries and election commissions are keen to explore how it can help them improve their elections. For some nations, automated elections mean that people can trust the results because it allows for a process that is so auditable, transparent and secure. Of course, electronic voting also helps reduce human error. For other countries, particularly large ones like Brazil, India, Nigeria and the Philippines, electronic voting and electronic counting means that people can get official election results within hours, instead of weeks. Again, this builds trust of the electorates in the electoral process. In an election, it is vitally important that everyone who is eligible to participate in elections can do so, meaning that it’s easier for even disable people to vote independently. Given the high penetration of mobile devices in the world today, one potential way to address the challenges of electoral malpractices is to connect government electoral resources with mobile devices to enable a wider participation of citizens in the electoral process (Alabi 2011).
Mobile devices have now become so embedded in human life that people are utilising them to transact all kinds of business activities. Citizens of many countries of the world are beginning to believe that one way to enforce openness, transparency, and accountability in their government’s electoral processes is to draw on the power of technology to conduct voting anywhere, anytime (Alvarez and Hall 2010). Voting using mobile devices, with the associated benefits of providing mobile convenience and fostering mass participation in the electoral process, is increasingly being demanded by citizens (McGrane 2013). Electronic voting (e-Voting) is one of such areas where the impact of ICT is sought globally, particularly in the developing nations of the world, to help ameliorate some of the problems plaguing the electoral processes. Traditional voting systems were developed to ensure strict compliance with the principles of democratic elections and referendums.
1.1.6 The Nigerian Electoral Process
The electoral process includes the selection of candidates, the registration of voters and the voting procedures. A secure electoral process is important in the context of good government, human rights and poverty elimination. The need for a secure electoral process cannot be over-emphasized as the absence of this will not only bring about the possibility of abuse, but the process and the result may be open to legal challenge. This could undermine the stability and authority of a newly elected body or office.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
Elections the world over are usually plagued with a myriad of challenges that do not make the elections turn out hitch-free. Specifically in the last general elections in Nigeria, some challenges were experienced with the introduction of a semi-automated electoral system via the use of smart card readers in the electoral process. The use of the card reader was associated with several downsides which include breakdown, malfunction, issues with PVC authentication and biometric data verification of the voters, inability of the card readers to identify some finger/thumbprints.
This study therefore aims at designing a web-based electoral system, with an online voting solution that would by-pass the use of smart card readers in the electoral process.
1.3 Objective of the Study
The main objective of this study is to design a web-based electoral system with an online voting solution. The specific objectives are to:
- by-pass the use of smart card readers with its attendant issues in Nigeria’s general elections;
- eliminate electoral violence and other challenges associated with manual voting methods and
- evaluate the performance of the designed system.