…May Deploy e-Voting From 2021
…Says Use Of Facemask At Polling Units Compulsory
As election was not part of essential services announced by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 during the lockdown, the nation’s electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, has said it is planning to engage relevant authorities, including the National Assembly, to include election as an essential service due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It added that declaring election as an essential service will enable the electoral umpire function optimally and effectively during national emergencies.
Expressing its readiness to pilot the use of electronic voting machines at the earliest possible time introduce it fully into the electoral process for major elections from 2021, INEC added that the pilot phase of the project, however, would not include the governorship elections in Edo and Ondo states scheduled for September 19, and October 10, 2020.
All of these were contained in a policy document, titled ‘Policy on Conducting Elections in the Context of COVID-19 Pandemic,’ signed by INEC’s chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, and released on Monday, May 25.
The policy statement covers a spectrum of health and legal issues, election planning and operations, election day and post-election activities, voter registration, political parties, election observation, electoral security and deployment of technology in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The policy mandated compulsory use of facemasks at all polling units for the Edo and Ondo states gubernatorial elections and other outstanding bye-elections; adding non compliance with this directive, a prospective voter would be turned away from the polling unit.
The INEC chairman also advised political parties to develop appropriate guidelines and regulations for conduct of party primaries, taking into consideration the COVID-19 prevention protocols.
He added that where such guidelines and regulations are in conflict with the constitutions of political parties and the commissions’ regulations and guidelines for the conduct of party primaries, it would draw the attention of the political party to such discrepancies.
Regretting that not only has COVID-19 pandemic led to far-reaching disruptions in the electoral system, Yakubu added that the novel coronavirus has also led to the postponement of elections and created uncertainties about scheduled ones.
To prevent the health risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, the commission also announced the suspension of the Continuous Registration of Voters, CVR.
Prof Yakubu added that a new election budget template to reflect the likely impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the funding profile of electoral activities would be developed.
He also advocated for a review of the electoral law in view of the rising cost of conducting frequent bye-elections in the country.
He said, “The Commission will engage with the legislature and other stakeholders to explore ways of responding to this, especially in consideration of the Supreme Court position that votes belong primarily to political parties, as well as the Commission’s records, which show that only in 10 per cent of all bye-elections since 2015 did the party that won originally lose the election.”
Prof Yakubu also said that INEC would engage the PTF and health authorities to put in place a system of voluntary COVID-19 testing for INEC staff before and after deployment for elections.
Other guidelines for election at this COVID-19 era include: “The Commission shall provide facemasks for all election officials. Alcohol based hand sanitizers will be provided for election officials at the polling units.
“Methylated Spirit and cotton wool will be provided for the disinfection of the Smart Card Readers, SCRs, after the fingerprint of each voter is read.
“The rules of physical distancing shall be enforced at all election activities including stakeholder engagements, training, queuing at Polling Units, etc.
Conduct immediate discussion with state government where elections are to hold concerning lockdowns, curfews, etc, and how they might affect elections.
“The Commission will engage immediately with NYSC and INEC State Offices to evolve modalities for corps members to serve as ad hoc staff in elections during the pandemic.
“In the establishment of Voting Points, in order to reduce the number of points in a Polling Unit to be monitored and controlled for COVID-19 compliance, the threshold for Voting Points shall be increased from 500/750 to 1,000/1,250.”
Also to be created by INEC is an e-platforms for accreditation of observer groups and deployment of their field observers, submission of nomination forms by political parties for candidates as well as tracking and reporting of campaigns and campaign finance by/for candidates and political Parties.
According to the INEC chairman, the policy would apply to all elections and electoral activities of the Commission during the COVID-19 pandemic.