IN the last Ekiti state governorship election, the Centre for Democracy and Development, CDD, said its field observers documented 41 voting buying and selling cases at polling units across six LGAs.
These voters are offered a sum under a “See and Pay” fraud, in which a voter displays the thumb-printed ballot to a party agent standing by a polling booth.
Political pundits have said the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) machine that was introduced in 2021 can help reduce election rigging, and parties will resort to vote buying. The ICIR reported multiple cases of vote buying in Ekiti and Osun elections. Vote buying did not start with the introduction of the BVAS. This has led to different concerns stakeholders offering solutions.
Recently, a Twitter user, Nicholas Musa, has suggested modifying the voting process to curb the rise of the practice in elections.
In a Twitter thread posted using on the handle @Nichmusa, Musa advised that the INEC merge the voting cubicle and the ballot box.
To do this, INEC will create a slot that can only fit the ballot slip on the cubicle. And place the ballot box underneath. With this, thumbprinting and vote-casting are in the same spot.
The entire process is enclosed and, according to Musa, eliminates the role of the ‘spotter.’
The ‘spotter’ is a party agent who confirms the candidate an electorate has voted for and signals an accomplice to finalise the exchange.
Musa said the spotter is the most vital agent whose role INEC can eliminate by this modification.
Musa told The ICIR that this proposed system tackles vote buying while incurring little or no cost.
“All that is needed has been procured or is already available. I’m only suggesting we switch the process. There is nothing extra to be procured.
“The only work required is sensitisation and an update to the training of Adhoc staff,” he said.
creating an opening (slot) on the thumb printing platform for votes to be cast. The ballot box is now enclosed beneath the voting cubicle. pic.twitter.com/F23lEF5OzK
— Nicholas Musa (@nichmusa) January 19, 2023
He noted that this procedure would provide privacy and vote credibility.
Musa’s proposal is rational but here is why it won’t work.
It differs from the legal voting system
The process is different from Nigeria’s ballot system. Nigeria practices an open-secret ballot system, a modified open ballot system. It requires that the voter make their choice secretly and cast their vote in Public.
In this system, the electoral body accredits and releases ballots openly, after which the voter retires to a private space (the cubicle) to vote before inserting the slip in public.
The ballot paper should remain folded outside the booth.
According to the INEC spokesperson Festus Okoye, the Commission must do as the law dictates.
He said INEC is a product of the law and must strictly adhere to its provisions. Hence, INEC can only make such changes if included in the legal framework.
“The Commission is a product of the law and constitution. The electoral act is clear; it says that before the beginning of any election, the electoral act must show the empty ballot box to everyone present. And it must be placed in the full view of people till the elections are over. That’s why we call it an open secret ballot. You thumbprint in secret and vote in the open.
“Before the Commission can change anything, there has to be an amendment to the legal framework. What we are doing now is following the legal framework that the lawmakers have provided,” he said.
It impedes the transparency of voting
A senior programme officer for CDD, Austin Aigbe, also affirmed that casting votes privately is against the voting system.
He said the law allows thumbprinting in private, but voters must publicly insert the paper inside the box; to do so privately will affect the transparency of the process.
What can be done?
Aigbe advised that INEC position the voting booth and ballot box closely. This way, the slip is inserted almost immediately after thumbprinting.
He urged that paper should be folded outside the cubicle, with voters and spectators at least one meter away.
It will prevent the voters from displaying that ballot paper to anyone.
He, however, added that the electoral body, in the long run, can mitigate the issue of vote buying with electronic voting.
“It has to be with electronic voting because, inside the cubicle, you can’t tell if the voter casts a vote. They may decide to keep the slip in their pocket.
“But with electronic voting, the voter will thumbprint, roll out, and the machine will roll in another ballot immediately.
“Placing the ballot in the eyes of the public allows for transparency. Everyone can tell if the voter has voted correctly. Everyone can see the slip inserted in the box. But when it is don’t privately, no one can tell that. The voter can even insert multiple ballot papers.”
“To do this, INEC has to introduce electronic voting. The 2022 electoral act already gave INEC the power to raise any electronic device for the poll. So this is now within INEC’s purview.
“The electronic voting will be offline to prevent anyone from hacking into the system,” he said.
Effective measures are already in place — INEC
The INEC spokesperson, Okoye said the techniques adopted by the Commission are effective methods to curb vote buying.
He noted that INEC has prevented using cameras in the polling units and collaborated with security agencies to control the practice.
He firmly believes that the enlightenment of the voters on the need to avoid selling their votes is the most effective means of achieving this.
Festus said, “some of the measures we have put in place, like preventing cameras in the polling compartment. And collaboration with various security agencies will go a long way in curbing vote buying.
“But ultimately, the antidote is the enlightenment of the electorates. People must understand that PVC has power and potency.”
He added that the Commission is willing to experiment with other ways to improve the integrity of the voting process.
He affirmed the possibility of trying out new techniques after the 2023 election.
*Produced in partnership with the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) with support from Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office (FCDO).