Friday, 25 March 2011

Nigeria: INEC Electoral Chain of Custody

Fingerprints just eliminate duplicates

As the Nigerian elections approach in April, much has been made of the opportunity of voters to become fully engaged in the democratic process. In the January and February over 73 million Nigerians registered to vote and by offering fingerprint scanning as part of their registration profiles INEC was able to eliminate over 800,000 multiple registrations.

This presents the idea that the voters register contains uniquely identified voters and those who appear to have registered in combinations of multiple places with multiple names would have been caught by the system and eliminated from the system preventing the case of people having the opportunity to vote twice in the same election.

That however is the extent of the usefulness of the fingerprint element of the voter registration profile as we are informed that the accreditation process that lasts from 08:00AM to 12 noon on each Election Day will not involve verifying [1] the identification of voters against their recorded fingerprints.

This raises a number of concerns that I would broadly categorise under the term Chain of Custody of the Electoral Process. Chain of Custody [2] in legal terms refers to the complete paper trail that pertains to the handling of evidence. I have tabulated the INEC Chain of Custody.

The INEC Electoral Guidelines

Reviewing the INEC Guidelines for the General Elections in April 2011 [3] there appears to be a very important paper trail managed by the Presiding Officer of the Polling Unit from the moment the person collects all the materials needed to resource the Polling Unit through to handing over results to the Collating Officer at the Registration Area Centre, then to a similarly titled person at the Local Government Collation Centre and on to the State Returning Officer and finally to the Chief Electoral Officer of Federation.

This whole process needs to be both meticulous and transparent with each handover within that chain prone to undue influence that monitors and agents at each stage of the process need to be vigilant, alert, aware and scrupulous in their duties.

Voters can only participate in the monitoring process as far as what happens in at their Polling Units beyond which the paper trail and accredited observers along with the law enforcement agents are the custodians of clean, fair and transparent electoral exercise.

Within the guidelines, I have counted 8 different forms that need to be filled in as part of the Chain of Custody that would ensure free and fair elections.

The Presiding Officer

Form EC.25B – Electoral Materials Receipt Form (Handler – Presiding Officer)

This is a checklist that the Presiding Officer needs to painstakingly go through to ensure all electoral materials issued to the Polling Unit are of the right type and quantity (This would pertain to the ballot papers to cater for the number of expected voters and for that specific election as well as indelible ink to mark the index finger of each accredited voter’s left hand). Every page of the Voters’ Register needs to be inspected to ensure all the pages are signed, stamped with the INEC stamp and that no pages are missing.

Form EC 8A – Statement of Result (Handler – Presiding Officer)

After the accreditation of voters between 8:00AM and 12 noon the Presiding Office first enters in words and figures the number of voters in the Register and the number of accredited voters for that day on the form.

Then all accredited voters are invited to queue up to vote allowing for cultural issues of gender separation if necessary. Everyone in the queue is counted and the Presiding Officer announces loudly to the hearing of all present the number of accredited voters in the queue. Note that this could be different from the number of accredited voters for that day, it can never be more but it could be less, if voters decide to leave the Polling Unit before voting.

That number of accredited voters waiting in the queue is then entered in Form EC 8A, the Presiding Officer signs the appropriate section and the polling agents are invited to sign too.

After voting, the ballots are separated and collated per political party and then counted out loudly for each political party in alphabetical order.

The votes counted

The number of votes scored for each candidate is entered in Form EC 8A in the space provided both in words and figures. The tally of counted votes must never exceed the number of accredited voters counted in the queue and this must be doubled checked and verified.

If the number of votes scored for each candidate exceeds the number of accredited voters waiting in the queue as entered in the form, the result is nullified. In the appropriate place Form EC 8A is endorsed as follows: “Result Cancelled”.

The nullified result is then announced to the hearing of all assembled and present. (I cannot predict the consequences of such an announcement.)

Whatever the result, the Presiding Officer signs and one party agent from each of the represented political parties is invited to sign the completed Form EC 8A – Statement of Result Form.

A copy of the duly completed and signed Form EC 8A is given to each party agent and the security agents and posted at the Polling Unit.

The Presiding Officer accompanied by security agents and the party agents gives the original copy of Form EC 8A – Statement of Result to the Collation Officer at the Registration Area Centre.

All election materials signed for in Form EC.25B – Electoral Materials Receipt Form are then returned to the Electoral Officer through the Supervisory Presiding Officer for preservation and possible referencing if disputes arise.

The chain of custody then passes to the Registration Area Collation Officer who receives the original Form EC 8A – Statement of Result Form from all the Presiding Officers within that Registration Area.

The Registration Area Collation Officer

Form EC 8B – Registration Area Statement of Result (Handler – Registration Area Collation Officer)

The Registration Area Collation Officer collates all results submitted in Form EC 8A presented by the Presiding Officers of all Polling Units in that Registration Area and enters these into Form EC 8B.

Form EC40G – Documentation of Elections that did not hold or those Cancelled or Nullified (Handler – Registration Area Collation Officer)

The Registration Area Collation Officer will entered the details of elections nullified in a Polling Unit by a Presiding Officer in Form EC40G, elections that did not hold in their respective Polling Units will also be duly entered in Form EC40G.

After the results per candidate in the Registration Area are called out loudly, Registration Area Collation Officer will sign Form EC 8B and then invite each candidate or party agent to sign the form. A refusal of the agents to sign the form will not invalidate the election results.

A copy of Form EC 8B is then given to each party agent, the security agents, the electoral officer and posted at the Registration Area Centre

The chain of custody then passes to the Local Government Collation Officer who receives the original Form EC 8B – Registration Area Statement of Result from all the Registration Area Collation Officers within that Local Government Collation Area and if available the original Form EC40G – Documentation of Elections that did not hold or those Cancelled or Nullified.

The Local Government Collation Officer

Form EC 8C – Local Government Area Statement of Result (Handler – Local Government Collation Officer)

The Local Government Collation Officer collates all results submitted through the Form EC 8B by the Registration Area Collation Officers into Form EC 8C of all Registration Areas that make up the Local Government Area which is also a Federal Constituency.

Form EC40G1 – Documentation of Elections that did not hold or those Cancelled or Nullified at Local Government Level (Handler – Local Government Collation Officer)

If any Form EC40G is submitted, the details are documented in the Form EC40G1

The Local Government Collation Officer will then announce the fully collated results from the Form EC 8C and then sign the form and invite the party agents to sign the form. A refusal of the agents to sign the form will not invalidate the election results.

A copy of Form EC 8C is then given to the candidates or their representative, a copy to the Resident Electoral Officer through the Electoral Officer, a copy to the Electoral Officer. A copy each to the security agents and a copy is posted at the Local Government Collation Centre.

The chain of custody then passes to the Returning Officer at the State level who receives the original copy of Form EC 8C – Local Government Area Statement of Result and if available, the original copy of Form EC40G1 – Documentation of Elections that did not hold or those Cancelled or Nullified at Local Government Level.

The State Returning Officer

Form EC 8D – State Level Statement of Result (Handler – State Returning Officer)

The State Returning Officer with collate the results in Form EC 8C submitted by the Local Government Collation Officers in that State into Form EC 8D.

Form EC40G2 – Documentation of Elections that did not hold or those Cancelled or Nullified at State Level (Handler – State Returning Officer)

If any Form EC40G1 is submitted, the details are documented in Form EC40G2

The State Returning Officer will then announce to the hearing of all the collated the results in Form EC 8D giving due consideration to the details in Form EC40G2

The State Returning Officer will then sign Form EC 8D and invite the party agents to sign the form. A refusal of the agents to sign the form will not invalidate the election results.

Copies of Form EC 8D are then given to the candidates or their representatives, a copy to each security agent, one for the Resident Electoral Officer and a copy is posted at the State Level Collation Centre.

The chain of custody then passes to the Chief Electoral Officer for the Federation who receives the original Form EC 8D – State Level Statement of Result from all State Returning Officers and if any the original Form EC40G2 – Documentation of Elections that did not hold or those Cancelled or Nullified at State Level.

The need for vigilance

With the distribution of results that are posted at Polling Unit and all Collation Centres at Registration Area, Local Government Area and State Level, the party agents, security agents and other electoral officers receiving copies of the declared results and then the announcing the results at each level, it would probably take a massive fraud to change the express will of the people.

However, there are people who will attempt to suborn the process by getting results nullified or not casting doubt on the results by withdrawing the support of their agents when it comes to signing the relevant forms.

It is important that along with the change of custody which we may not have full visibility of, voters should post the activities at their respective Polling Units to the ReVoDa [4] system.

Sources

[1] 234Next.com | Electoral body rules out fingerprint proof for elections

[2] Chain of custody - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

[3] INEC Guidelines for the General Elections in April 2011

[4] ReVoDa | How it works

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