An election observer, Yiaga Africa, has expressed concern over the framework for adopting new electoral technologies by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, due to technical challenges that marred the functioning of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, BVAS, in last Saturday’s Anambra gubernatorial election.
This was communicated during a press briefing by the Executive Director, Yoga Africa, Samson Itodo, while delivering the ‘Preliminary Statement on the 2021 Anambra Gubernatorial Election’ and board member Yiaga Africa Ezenwa Nwagwu, and the group’s Director of Programme, Cynthia Mbamalu.
According to him: “In its situational midday statement released on Saturday, November 6 Yiaga Africa raised concerns on late deployment if polling officials and election materials, delayed opening of polls, non-functioning of BVAS and non-opening of polling units concentrated in Ihiala and Ogbaru Local Government Areas, LGAs.
“By replacing Smart Card Readers with the BVAS, INEC intended to enhance the integrity of the electoral process by introducing additional checks to ensure only eligible voters could cast ballots on Election Day. The BVAS was used throughout the accreditation of voters in 95% of polling units.
“In 45% of the polling units, the system malfunctioned at some point during the accreditation. The BVAS was replaced in 1% of the polling units and fixed in 39%. In 5% of polling units, the BVAS malfunctioned but was not repaired or replaced. In 3% of polling units, the presiding officers resorted to manual accreditation of voters in contravention of INEC guidelines and regulations.
“Yiaga called on INEC to take necessary steps to ensure registered voters are not disenfranchised from voting to determine the next governor of Anambra State.
“Logistics heavily delayed the opening of polling units, despite innovations made in recent times to establish Super Registration Area Centres, RACs, close to the polling units to alleviate logistical problems.
“BVAS malfunctioned and slowed down the process. Yiaga Africa notes that the commission did not adhere to this procedure in the polling units where the BVAS did not accredit the voters.
“Yiaga Africa expresses concern with INEC’s framework for adopting new electoral technologies, as the BVAS, though a valuable tool for electoral integrity, fell short of expectations.”
Itodo, however, affirmed that “We support the BVAS device for electronic accreditation and transmission or upload of results we support that innovation.
“However, there are fundamental principles that govern the deployment of electoral technology. These devices are meant to improve the efficiency and transparency of the process.
“Our position is you can surrender your democracy to machines, and if you were not going to do that, there has to be a hybrid; the invocated approach provides manual and electronic means of conducting election processes. The BVAS should be supported, and we keep it.
“There is a principle of transparency, when these devices were first introduced Yiaga Africa deployed observers to observe the Isoko North bye-election on September 11, 2021, there were two challenges we highlighted; the first was on the capacity gaps that we kept on the part of the operators and in this case the polling officials. The second was the tech-glitches, and in our pre-election statement, we urged INEC to address those challenges.
“But were those challenges addressed? Based on what we observed, those challenges still linger, and it raises critical questions; we hope that the audit processes that INEC should conduct will address these gaps, but we have faith and support the BVAS.
“INEC cannot be deploying technologies that disenfranchise voters, and it questions its commitment to participatory democracy, and as an institution, it should prioritize these issues; the issue of fingerprint authentification was an issue with the Smart Card Reader, you introduce a new device we expect that these gaps will be addressed, but they have not been addressed, but as stakeholders, we would continue to hold INEC to higher standards because that is the responsibility that Yiaga Africa and other Civil Society Organisations have and it is in the best interest of our country.
“But technologies or machines have vulnerabilities, we know that these machines are vulnerable but INEC needs to be more open with stakeholders to discuss these principles of integrity, transparency, accountability, efficiency, and these for us will be discussions that Yiaga Africa will lead over the next couple of weeks around the common the principles that should govern deployment of electoral technologies-issues on cost, infrastructure, digital security, public awareness in the use of technology.”
Meanwhile, voters in the Ihiala Local Government Area of Anambra State will have a supplementary election today.