Written by Armsfree Ajanaku
IT is no longer news that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has rescheduled the commencement date for the 2015 general elections from February 14 to March 28, 2015. What may be news for some Nigerians is the fact that, barring any last minute changes, the Election Day procedures for the 2015 elections will be different from what was used in 2011. Based on the foregoing, it is imperative to begin a conversation on the changes in the electoral process to help voters understand what to expect when they go to the polls on March 28. This article will lay the foundation for this conservation and highlight the Quick Count, a globally tested election observation methodology that the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG) will deploy to observe the 2015 presidential election.
The changes to Election Day procedures proposed by INEC will lead to the introduction of new election materials and equipment. INEC has produced Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs) which are currently being distributed across the country. While voters were able to vote with their Temporary Voters’ Cards (TVCs) during the 2011 elections, those without PVCs will not be allowed to vote in 2015. This makes it critical for all registered voters to collect their PVCs before the March 8, 2015 INEC deadline for the distribution of these cards. INEC has also procured Voters’ Card Readers (VCRs) which will be used to verify the identity of voters before they are allowed to vote. The use of card readers is an innovation put in place to prevent impersonation and proxy voting. INEC has also produced accreditation tags which will be used to distinguish accredited voters from those not accredited.
The polling officials at polling units during the 2015 elections will be quite different, in titles and roles, to those deployed by INEC in 2011. While INEC had a minimum of three polling officials, the Presiding Officer, Poll Clerk and Poll Assistant at polling units in 2011, in 2015, they will have four officials at every polling unit. This will include the Presiding Officer who will be in charge of the entire polling unit and the Assistant Presiding Officer (APO) I, responsible for authenticating the voter using the card reader. Others will be the APO II, responsible for crosschecking voters’ details on the PVC and the Voters Register and the APO III who will be responsible for arranging voters’ queues. For polling units that are divided into voting points, each of the voting points will also have a total of four polling officials, the APO I, II and III and the APO (VP). The duties of the APO I, II and III at voting points will be the same with those at polling units not divided into voting points, while the APO (VP) will be responsible for supervising all the activities at the voting points. Having spoken about election materials and polling officials for the 2015 elections, let’s navigate to Election Day procedures. It is important to note that most of the changes made to 2011 Election Day procedures ahead of the 2015 elections are related to accreditation. For the 2015 elections, a voter will first present him or herself to the APO III once the polling unit is declared open. Thereafter, the APO III will confirm to the voter whether he or she is at the right polling unit. Voters found to be at the wrong polling units will be directed to their correct polling units, while those at the right polling unit proceed to the APO I. On his/her part, the APO I will request for the voter’s PVC and match the photograph on the PVC with the voter’s face before inserting the PVC into the card reader to find out if it is authentic. After this, the APO I will request the voter to place a finger on the card reader to check if their finger prints corresponds with what is on their PVC. Once the APO I is done with these, he or she sends the voter to the APO II who will crosscheck the details of the voter on the PVC with those on the voters register. Quite frankly, it is very easy to see that if this new system functions effectively, proxy voting will be reduced to its barest minimum.
Let us now proceed to election observation. Election observation is an integral part of the electoral process. The significance of this process in determining the credibility of elections cannot be overstated, especially when elections may be as close as many analysts and polls have predicted the 2015 elections to be. There is no doubt that Nigerians are eager to find out from credible and independent sources how well INEC will conduct the 2015 elections. This is why INEC has accredited 105 groups, 81 domestic and 24 international, to observe the 2015 elections and provide independent assessments on the quality of these elections. The sizes of the delegations of these groups and the methodologies they will deploy to observe these elections will vary. We are, however, going to highlight the Quick Count methodology which TMG, Nigeria’s largest civil society coalition, will be deploying to observe the 2015 presidential elections.
The Quick Count methodology was first deployed in the Philippines in 1986. It is an advance election observation methodology. It involves deploying observers to a representative random sample of polling stations and to rapidly collect and transmit via coded text messages data on the conduct of voting and counting as well as the official results at the polling unit level. Using time-tested statistical principles it is then possible to provide more precise information on the conduct of the elections and to verify the official results as announced by INEC. For the 2015 presidential election, the TMG Quick Count will deploy two observers each to a sample of 1,507 polling units, a representative random sample of all of Nigeria’s polling units and voting points. The TMG Quick Count is driven by data, beholden to no one and undertaken on behalf of all Nigerians. If the official results of the 2015 elections reflect the ballots cast, the TMG Quick Count will confirm it, if it does not reflect the ballots cast, the TMG Quick Count will expose it. TMG will share its data regardless of whoever emerges as the winner of the 2015 presidential election.
• Ajanaku is the Media Manager of the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), a coalition of 460 civil society organisations