Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Taking a look at the issues involved in conducting the 2015 general elections in a single day

Election Monitor Publisher, Abiodun Ajijola, presenting some copies of Election Monitor Newsletter to INEC Chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega

The Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega recently came up with the idea of holding all elections in the country on the same day. “I think that in the future, not 2015, elections should be held in same day in line with global practices and Nigeria should move in that direction in the future. Staggered elections are not cost effective and it is not cost efficient and it is expensive,” Clearly, INEC recognises that staggering the General elections may continue at least as far as the 2015 general elections are concerned.  There are administrative hurdles associated with conducting the national assembly, state houses of assembly, gubernatorial and presidential elections in one day. For example the key difference between a staggered and single day election administratively is the complexity of the ballot paper. 

That is to say that the ballot papers must be designed to accommodate all the parties contesting for elective offices for each category of election. While it is possible to develop this, it needs to be done creatively so as not to confuse voters or make the process unnecessarily cumbersome. In this respect it is right to say that staggered elections are more practical to execute.
However the general elections showed that fewer people turned out for the gubernatorial and state houses of assembly elections than for the presidential election. This also shows that staggering elections has some negative impact on voters as well. Because the voters have to come out to vote each weekend for three consecutive weekends, fatigue sets in and voter apathy grows with time. This is certainly not unconnected with the fact that there is total lockdown of movement on Election Day grinding all economic activities to a halt. For this reason, it may make sense to have the elections on a single day even if the ballot papers and voting process is slightly more cumbersome. Because the election is in a single day, it will likely experience record turnout of voters since they know that they will not need to sacrifice any other day.

Holding the general elections on a single day is also cost-effective. The key costs associated with logistics and Adhoc personnel payments will be greatly reduced as a result. Considering that INEC engages almost one thousand vehicles during the conduct of the general elections and about half a million Adhoc personnel are engaged it is clear to see that the cost-benefit of conducting elections on a single day are highly favorable.

Logistical planning is seen as crucial. It is recommended to carry out mock voting to get an understanding of the logistical challenges involved. Consideration must be given to the additional space and staff needed in the ·       polling stations. Clear and simple procedures need to be in place for voters to follow. It is recommended to stagger the casting of votes within the polling station, i.e. receive ballot(s) for some contests, vote, and then proceed and receive more ballots, as was the case in South Sudan in 2010.

Considerable external relations exercise to ensure access, transparency and faith;   INEC will have to embark on a media campaign to ensure that the general public is clear on the peculiarities of the single day election format. 

Population densities and adult literacy rates of countries that have practiced holding general elections on a single day in comparison with Nigeria
Source: World Bank and World Atlas

There are several countries where general elections have held on a single day.

·       General elections in Britain are made up of 650 individual elections that take place on a single day, across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

·       The Sudanese general elections of 2010, where there were eight electoral contests held in the north and 12 in the south, with considerable logistical success. It is, however, also pointed out that this was a different set of circumstances, with voters being able to vote over a four-day period.

·       The Philippines is given as a case where a great many posts, from the national to the local level, are contested on the same day and on a single ballot. This is seen to work partly because voters are used to this system.

·       Zanzibar conducts five ballots at once. Stress is laid on the importance of suitable polling arrangements and polls closing in good time to enable timely counting.

·       The Ukrainian election of 2002 saw seven elections held simultaneously and is described as “a mess” citing, among other things, the number of polling staff and number of voters per polling station.

·       In May 2011, Pakistan conducted its general elections in a single day.  There are over 86.1 million registered voters in Pakistan, including over 48.6 million male and 37.5 million female voters, according to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). Out of the 342 National Assembly seats, 272 seats were open for contesting. However, due to the death of candidates and poor law and order situation, elections could only take place in 268 constituencies across the country. Out of the 728 provincial assembly seats, 572 seats were open for voters with the remaining seats to be decided according to the share of the seats won by the competing parties in the elections.

While it is clear from the above cases that elections on a single day are possible, for this to be successful several measures need to be taken by INEC. These include but are not limited to the following:

·       Adequate planning is key to the success of single day general elections. Great emphasis needs to be put on adequate voter education. Voters must know what they are voting for and how to vote. Voter education should include pictorial instructions of how to vote.

·       Separate and colour coded ballot papers and boxes. One long ballot is seen by many as problematic, both for the voter and when counting. It must, however, be taken into account that separate ballots papers and boxes will increase the number of people required to be present in the polling station and making crowding a potential problem. The impact of the electoral system or systems used on ballot design should also be noted.

·       The capacity of INEC to adequately design and implement several electoral contests is also critical.  It is germane that there must be contingency plans for potential scenarios and problems, i.e. Are all voters eligible to vote in all elections?

Regarding the amount of time required to vote, the organisation and management of the polling stations are seen as key, with the numbers of voters ·       per polling station being crucial. Considering that there are already 120,000 polling units catering to an average of 613 people, it is clear that managing a more cumbersome voting process will be difficult with such a large population and relatively small geographic area.

·       In terms of announcing the results, INEC must be prepared for delays and have a clear communication strategy that is “transparent, credible an open” and that can “sustain confidence in the process.” It may be necessary to initiate a computer-based Results Management System (RMS) for the processing of multiple election results.

·       Requirement to recruit two polling station teams, one to vote and one to count; It will be necessary to have enough staff at the polling units to monitor the voting and counting. This is because as voting for one category is concluded, the next is just beginning.  Another option is to leave all the counting till the end, which take a longer time and may prove rather cumbersome,

·       Emphasis on observer briefing and polling team training; Accredited election observers and INEC Adhoc personnel will need to be properly prepared in order to function effectively.

·       Post election; review the number of voided / blank ballots as a possible indication of voter confusion; In the 2011 Presidential elections, there were a total of 1,259,506 invalid votes which translates to 3.19% of the total votes cast. In the ‘Election Data Centre’ of this edition of Election Monitor Newsletter, we have taken a look at why the 2015 presidential election will probably be the closest in the nation’s history at least amongst the top two contenders. It is clear that a high amount of voided votes could affect the outcome of the result if the victory margin is under 3%. This is quite common in some other locations, like in the Ghanaian 2012 and Kenyan 2013 Presidential elections where the margin of victory was minute.  It should be noted that if the single day election did take place it would probably face its greatest challenges in the regions of the country with the lowest literacy rates. It may then not prove a favourable option for any political party whose support base is primarily from the lower literate parts o f the country.

·       Clear protocols on what happens if voters refuse any of the ballots; It is key for INEC to have a standing protocol for what occurs when voters decide not to vote for a particular race and assess the implications of this.

From the table above it is clear that the UK, the Philippines and Ukraine all have adult literacy rates of over 95%. These countries also have significant population densities. The countries are also much more technically advanced and sophisticated than Nigeria. Democracy has been operating for a considerable period in some of these places as well, like the United Kingdom.

However, Kenya and Ghana also have higher adult literacy rates than Nigeria, but have much smaller population densities.  This means that they will find it easier to run elections in a single day because of fewer people to administer at the polling units, fewer polling units and more literate people to vote.

Sudan is the only country here with a lower adult literacy rate than Nigeria, but also with the lowest population density.  The very low population density is highly favourable for Sudan’s single general elections but it must be noted that the elections were carried out in four consecutive days.

In summary, this means that Nigeria may face significant challenges with successfully implementing single day general elections because of its huge population density which will make polling units difficult to administer (with 120,000 polling units, 613 people are on average in each PU) and the country’s low adult literacy rate will also compound issues with voters likely getting confused and frustrated. For this reason 2015 may be too early to commence single day general elections in Nigeria although a pilot run covering about 6 locations, one in each geopolitical zone should be experimented.

No comments:

Post a Comment