Technology affects the way individuals interact with one another on a daily basis. It is also a major influence on other aspects of life, be it health, education, finances among others.
The fusion between technology and governance can be seen in many parts of the world, particularly in the electioneering process. The deployment of technology in different countries of the world to the electioneering process has recorded an enormous impact.
Most electoral management bodies around the world use new technologies with the aim of improving the electoral process. Some of the technologies employed by these bodies include basic office automation tools such as word processing and spreadsheets to more sophisticated data processing tools, such as database management systems, optical scanning and geographic information systems.
Government and politics impact nearly every aspect of human life ranging from the amount of tax an individual pays to the kinds of household items they can possess.
Voting on its part is the process of selecting a candidate for a political position. It is one of the electioneering processes.
Elections in Nigeria
With an over 210 million population, Nigerians go to the polls every four years to choose their representatives at the local, state and federal government levels.
The Independent National Electoral Commission, the apex body for election conduct in the country, has been saddled with the responsibility of overseeing the electioneering process while ensuring credibility.
However, despite the efforts of the commission to keep the electoral process as transparent as possible, there have been widespread reports of electoral malpractice aided sometimes with violence.
INEC had, over the years, sought the deployment of technological innovation to improve the credibility and safety of the electoral process in Nigeria.
In 2015, the commission deployed the use of smart card readers for the conduct of the elections with four main objectives: to verify Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) presented by voters at polling units and ensure that they are genuine, INEC-issued (not cloned) cards.
Another objective was to biometrically authenticate the person who presents a PVC at the polling unit and ensure that they are the legitimate holder of the card.
It was also stated that the SCRs were to provide disaggregated data of accredited voters in male/female and elderly/youth categories.
The SCR sends the data of all accredited voters to INEC’s central server, equipping the Commission to be able to audit figures subsequently filed by polling officials at the PU and, and thereby be able to determine if fraudulent alterations were made.
In a document released on September 13, 2021, INEC says it has, over the last two years, applied several technological innovations to manage the electoral process.
It highlighted them to be INEC Results Viewing (IReV) portal, separate portals for nomination of candidates, accreditation of election observers, accreditation of the media for elections and for nomination of polling agents.
Also, the commission introduced the online pre-registration of voters as part of the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise, which has made it possible for well over two million Nigerians to commence and/or complete their registration without difficulties within a period of ten weeks.
Recently, INEC Chairman, Information and Voter Committee, Festus Okoye, revealed during an interview with AriseTV that the body will be deploying the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) for the Anambra governorship election which is slated for November 6.
He explained that the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) was inaugurated by INEC for voter accreditation in order to enable near real-time viewing of results.
What is BVAS?
The BVAS can be described as a system that will combine fingerprint and face biometrics for identity verification of voters.
As explained by the top official, the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System integrates the three-stage voting process.
It is an integrated device that is multifunctional in nature, which serves as Voter Enrolment Device (IVED) during voter registration, voter accreditation on Election Day and also functions as INEC Results Viewing Device (IReV Device) to be used for election results upload on Election Day.
Integrated into the INEC Voter Enrollment Device, the BVAS will combine fingerprint and facial authentication to ensure that the person holding the PVC is the one that will vote.
Having been described as a “technological convergence”, the BVAS, which performs the functions of both the Smart Card Reader and Z-Pad will ensure fingerprint authentication during the accreditation of voters and eliminate any need for the filing of incident forms.
Okoye, during the interview, said, “What INEC did is called a technological convergence. An enrollment device is what is being used for the continuous voters’ registration. In the Anambra election, this device will become the bimodal voters accreditation system which will be used to verify the biometrics of the voter.
“This will now transform into a Z-pad which will be used for upload of results. It is a three-in-one device. The smart card reader has been phased out. INEC is embarking on massive voter education via the radio and the television.”
The BVAS which was deployed in the September 23 Isoko South State Assembly Constituency bye-election in Delta State, was said to have recorded a 97% progress.
Several countries of the world and in Africa are adopting biometric systems such as the BVAS to ensure a fair and efficient election.
These systems, according to biometric update, include identification solutions for voter registration, voting, tallying and identification. Common modalities include fingerprint recognition, palm vein recognition, iris recognition and facial recognition. Mobile voting systems are also included.
It is important to note that biometrics in election processes allow the capture and recognition of unique physical characteristics, whether fingerprints (also hand geometry or palmprints), iris, face, voice, signature, or some patterns of behaviour.
A good example of success recorded was from the general elections held in Ghana on December 7, 2020. In a release by Neurotechnology, a company that specialises in high-precision biometric identification and object recognition technologies, revealed that its MegaMatcher Automatic Biometric Identification System (ABIS), were used for Ghana's Biometric Voter Management System, providing voter registration, deduplication, adjudication, final voter list generation and verification.
According to the release, the MegaMatcher ABIS provided deduplication for a total of 17,027,641 registrants who were eligible to vote in the general election. By matching fingerprints and/or facial biometrics for each registrant name, the system successfully identified 15, 860 multiple registrations conducted by 7,890 unique individuals who attempted to register more than once using different names.
Other African countries that have deployed the use of this technique for conduct of election include Uganda, Angola, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Comoros, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of Côte D’Ivoire, Gambia, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somaliland, Swaziland (Eswatini), Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
Most strikingly, Somaliland in 2017 deployed the use of iris recognition-based biometric voting systems.
This is the scanning of the eye to verify the identity of registered voters before they are cleared to vote.
The machines were said to have been under trial since 2015 ahead of the election held on November 13, 2017.
However, while the voter accreditation system has been praised for eliminating electoral malpractice, there have been some shortcomings in its usage. While it prevents multiple registration, it may not affect many other fraudulent strategies.
During the Ugandan elections, biometric voter identification was abandoned as a result of network failure.
According to reports from Uganda, the network problems can be attributed to President Yoweri Museveni, who imposed an internet blackout that cut off access to news, social media, and messaging services ahead of the election.
Also, given the complexity of the biometric voting processes, many electoral agencies require external partners, or private companies, that can assist in effecting the new process seamlessly.
However, this often raises new concerns for citizens including protection of voters’ data when trusted with a private vendor.
Many rightfully want to know what will happen with the personal information and biometric data they provide.
Nigeria has, over the years, upgraded its use of technology for electoral matters, including the new BVAS which is to be used for the Anambra election.
However, time will tell whether or not this will eliminate electoral malpractice.
This article was produced per 2021 Kwame Karkari fact-checking fellowship in partnership with SaharaReporters to facilitate the ethos of truth in journalism and enhance media literacy in the country.