Sunday, 13 October 2013
Voter Turnouts and Invalid Votes in Nigerian Elections By Mr. Nengak Daniel Gondyi
“Let us try to find these 34 million citizens who did not vote in 2011 to find out why they couldn’t vote and know what we could do to make it easier for them to vote.”
There is a lot we can know about the upcoming 2015 general elections even now in 2013. For example, the last elections in 2011 and all previous elections collectively put on the table an enormous wealth of experience we can chew upon as we prepare for 2015. But this is not to imply that elections often follow fixed patterns; mostly they don’t. But still, we can learn a lot from the past to make the 2015 elections even better.
The 2011 general elections showed a number of important trends especially in voter turnout and in voided votes that we will consider in this article. Using the data on the 2011 Presidential Election published by the Nigerian Elections Coalition, one finds that voter turnout varied precariously from the lowest 28.01% in Ogun State and 30.12% nearby in Ondo to the unprecedented 85.61 in Bayelsa and 83.56 in Imo States and then evened out to 53.7% as the national average. This means that there was about 30% variance from the national average Ogun (lowest turnout) and in Bayelsa (highest turnout). Since only 39,469,484 (or 53.7%) citizens turned out to vote, it means that 34,058,556 (or 46.3%) citizens who had registered did not vote; therefore, for every Nigerian who voted, there was one other Nigerian who did not - almost.
In the final voter registration results published in March 2011, Ogun had 1,941,170 registered voters while Ondo had 1,616,091, Imo 1,687,293 and Bayelsa 591,870. Unfortunately, it is not possible to probe these turnouts as data is lacking concerning the total eligible population – that is adult citizens in these states. But it is clear that the voter registration exercise saw a high turnout across Nigeria; surely higher than the 53% who later turned out to vote. So why did citizens turn out en masse to register to vote but then did not turn out to vote for a president? One can speculate about possible reasons: first it is likely that most of them did vote in other elections closer to the grassroots namely the gubernatorial and legislative elections; also there might have been coercion including the threat to withhold Holy Communion responsible for the higher figures during the registration which was not sustained by voting time. Lastly but very crucial is the extent of mobility allowed during the registration exercise but denied during elections. Citizens could roam the whole country to choose the least congested centre and register but by Election Day, they are either unwilling to go all the way to vote, or constrained by the “no movement” rule on Election Day. There is need therefore to simplify the process of “porting” voter registration across the country in 2015 and also query the motivations behind citizen enrolments in the voter register.
From the foregoing analysis, it seems clear that Nigerian democracy is bleeding and loosing precious life-sustaining fluids through the invalid votes and the absent voters. Since our election system is based on the first-past-the-post model where a candidate with a simple majority can be declared winner (provided the votes are well spread across the constituency); we need to do more to ensure that all eligible citizens participate in the selection of their representatives. Additionally, we are aware that thousands (perhaps millions) of eligible voters who are very knowledgeable on the issues of election are constrained from voting due to election duties- this includes INEC staff, security services and the legion of election monitors and observers. We need to make room for them to vote without jeopardizing the conduct of the elections. Perhaps it is best to observe where one votes.
Now considering the number of candidates in the Presidential race, distributing 39 million votes casted among about 20 candidates, President Goodluck Jonathan emerged the winner with 22,495,187 (or 58.89% of the valid votes cast); but if you contrast the winning candidate’s score against the total sample of valid votes, it turns out that the remaining voters totaling 16,974,297 (representing 23.09%) had wanted a different president while as many as 34,058,556 (or 46.32% of possible voters) did not turn out to vote. In the end, only 30.59% of the total registered voters wanted the current government; and we had more people absenting from the vote than those who voted in this government on one hand and those who voted other candidates on the other hand. Question: what do the 34,058,556 non-voting citizens want for Nigeria?
There are many ways to probe these percentages; for one it could be contrasted with the turnout during voter registration or perhaps to the scores of individual political parties in the high and low turnout states. In total, there were 73,528,040 registered voters out of an estimated total population of 150 million. If you control for the under-aged and the denizens who do not vote, it looks like every adult citizen was indeed enrolled in the voters’ register in 2011. Assuming then that the voter turnout in the 2011 Presidential Election was indicative of the level of political participation in Nigeria, let us then contrast the fortunes of the 4 states named above in terms of elections voter turnout viz-a-viz voter registration turnout.
Moving forward, there is a need to reflect on invalid votes casted during the 2011 general elections. Again I draw figures from the presidential polls which is the only election contested on a national scale. First we had established that a total of 46.3% of eligible citizens who did register to vote did not vote. But we know nothing about the figures of persons who might have been eligible to vote but did not enroll in the voters’ register. Of the of 46.3% - that is 34,058,556 people who did not vote, the range varied to as many as 70% staying away from the polls in Ondo and Ogun States to as little as under 20% in Imo and Bayelsa States. So whereas total of 34 million citizens did not vote, 1,259,506 (or 3.19%) of candidates who did vote, voted incorrectly and had their ballot papers voided and excluded from the total tally of the election results.
For 2015, the time to start active preparation is actually yesterday. Let us try to find these 34 million citizens who did not vote in 2011 to find out why they couldn’t vote and know what we could do to make it easier for them to vote. Then we need to do cousin-to-cousin voter education: if I placed a ballot box within your neighbourhood, can you guarantee that everyone would vote correctly? We cannot just assume; we saw that almost 3.19% of Nigerians voted wrongly in 2011. We need to teach them how to vote.
Nengak Daniel Gondyi is a Programme Manager with the Lagos Office of the CLEEN Foundation (http://www.cleen.org/). Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.