The Senate on Thursday, approved electronic voting in the 2019 general elections and other future elections.
It also approved the use of card reader device for voter accreditation by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The Senate also addressed confusion that could from sudden death of candidate of a political party before conclusion of election.
Political party of such a dead candidate is mandated to conduct fresh primary election to elect a new candidate within 14 days, while the INEC is given 21 days to conclude the election with the transfer of votes of the deceased candidate to the new one.
Among the sweeping provisions contained in the 2017 Electoral Act passed into law by the Senate included Section 52 (2), which states that, “The electoral commission shall adopt electronic voting in all elections or any other method of voting as may be determined by the commission from time to time”
The said section however gives the INEC the discretion to use other methods of voting if it is impracticable to use electronic voting in any given election.
Recommended along with the electronic voting proposal, as contained in the Act, is the card reader innovation used by INEC in the 2015 general election.
The device was legalised by the Act under Section 49 which deals with accreditation of voters, transmission of accreditation data etc.
Specifically the Act under section 49 (2) states that, “The Presiding officer shall use a smart card reader or any other technological device that may be prescribed by the commission from time to time for the accreditation of voters, to verify, confirm or authenticate the genuineness or otherwise of the voter’s card”.
The amendment also took care of the scenario that played out in the November 2015 governorship election in Kogi State where the death of the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), the late Abubakar Audu created crisis within the party.
Section 36 (a) (b) (c) addressed such unforeseen circumstances typical of the confusion that ensued after Audu’s death and the recrimination that greeted the merge cells of Alhaji Yahaya Bello as his replacement in the Kogi election.
The Section states in (3) that “If after the commencement of poll and before the announcement of the final result and declaration of a winner, a nominated candidate dies, (a) the Commission shall, being satisfied of the fact of the death, suspend the election for a period not exceeding 21 days;
It states in (b) that “the political party whose candidate died may, if it intends to continue to participate in the election, conduct a fresh direct primary within 14 days of the death of its candidate and submit a new candidate to the Commission to replace the dead candidate; and
(c) Subject to paragraphs (a) and (b) of this subsection, the Commission shall continue with the election, announce the final result and declare a winner”.
Other provisions contained in the Act are section 8 (5) where any staff of INEC found to be registered member of any of the political parties is liable to an offence carrying 5 years jail term or N5, 000,000.00 fine or both.
Section 87 deals with nominations of candidates by parties for election from councillorship to presidency, with pegging of the amounts that should be collected from them by their various political parties.
The Act states that monies collected from aspirants by political parties for councillorship election should not exceed N150, 000.00; Local Government Chairman, N250, 000.00; State House of Assembly member N500, 000.00; House of Representatives member N1,000,000.00; Senatorial aspirant N2, 000,000.00; Governor of a State N5, 000, 000.00; and N10, 000,000.00 from a presidential aspirant.
Other provisions in the Act gave specific guidelines for political parties in election of delegates for their primary elections whether direct or indirect and jurisdictions of courts over such primary elections.
The Act under jurisdiction of courts specifically stated that though courts can entertain cases relating or arising from conduct of party primaries from aggrieved aspirants but cannot stop any of the primary elections from holding.
The provisions state that, “Notwithstanding the provisions of this Act or rules of a political party , an aspirant who complains that any of the provisions of this Act or rules of a political party has not been complied with in the nomination of a candidate of a political party for election, may apply to the Federal High Court or the High Court of a state or the FCT for redress.
“However nothing in this session shall empower the courts to stop the holding of ad-hoc delegates elections, primaries or general election or the processes thereof under this Act pending the determination of the suit”.
The passage of the bill followed the consideration of the report of the Senate Committee on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on a Bill for an Act to amend the Electoral Act No. 6, 2010 and for other related matters (SB 231 and SB 234).
Commenting after the adoption of the report, President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, thanked his colleagues for what he described as a job well done and expressed optimism that the Bill would further improve the nation’s electoral system and also contribute to good governance.
Saraki said, “Distinguished colleagues, let me thank all of you for this job well done. I want to particularly thank the members of the Committee on INEC and particularly the former chairman of the Committee, Abubakar Kyari, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege and all the members of the committee who have worked very hard to ensure the passage of this very important bill which addresses our electoral process and goes on to strengthen our democracy.
“We have touched on new areas which I believe will improve the credibility of our elections and by so doing, definitely improve our democracy and good governance.
“Most importantly, I think, are some of the new sections we have added, in the area of technology, the smart card reader, and particularly the area of collation which has been an area of great concern.
“Collation of results after the polling units and some of the additions we put on the electronic way by which the compilation of results can be done, I think will go a long way to reduce some of the irregularities we have seen before.
“This is a great work you have been able to put together today and I want to commend everybody. I am also happy that we have passed the amendments very early. My concern has always been that if we don’t do it now, it will get more difficult as we get blown to the 2019 elections.
“We hope that with this Bill that we have passed, very soon, we will sit together with the House of Representatives to be able to get the copy to the President for assent.
“I think when signed into law, it will enable INEC to have something to work early enough. I think what we have done today will really put our electoral law among the best that we have and it will go a long way in improving our electoral process”.