The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has unveiled a policy document for the conduct of elections under the COVID-19 pandemic, giving impetus to the use of ICT and technology while reducing face-to-face contact as much as possible in various aspects of the process.
While recognising that full scale deployment of technology and electronic voting was not feasible in the scheduled Edo and Ondo governorship elections, the policy set an ambitious target to migrate to electronic voting in 2021, starting with the Anambra State gubernatorial poll.
To this end, INEC said it would begin the pilot trial of electronic voting machine as part of its policy to deploy value-for-money technology in all aspects of the electoral process, preparatory to “the full introduction of electronic voting in major elections, starting from 2021”.
The commission, according to the policy released on Monday, also announced the suspension of the Continuous Registration of Voters (CVR) “for the time being to prevent the health risks associated with it in the context of COVID-19”.
In line with the pandemic policy framework, INEC said it would review its election information kits and expand the Inter Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES) to include the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), the National Orientation Agency (NOA), and other relevant health bodies on a temporary basis.
It promised to develop a Voter Code of Conduct (VCC) detailing how voters must conduct themselves during elections in the context of the pandemic.
As part of the COVID-19 policy, INEC has mandated its state offices to work with local health authorities to do a health assessment of upcoming elections in Edo and Ondo immediately.
They would also mainstream COVID-19 in its election risk mapping tools like the Election Risk Management (ERM) and Election Violence Mitigation and Advocacy Tool (EVMAT), while ensuring that Pre-Election Preparation (PEP) activities are conducted online.
It added: “Where face-to-face activities become necessary, the protocols for COVID-19 prevention should be followed.”
The states were also enjoined to conduct a pilot poll on the changes to the electoral process in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic in a bye-election prior to the Edo and Ondo governorship elections in order to learn lessons where necessary.
Also, INEC said it would adopt electronic platforms for the submission of nomination forms by political parties in the Edo and Ondo governorship elections.
In the policy document signed by Mahmood Yakubu, its chairman, INEC said during the elections in Edo and Ondo scheduled for September and October, face masks would be made compulsory for voters, electoral officials, and everyone else at all election locations.
It said the polling unit areas shall be redesigned to ensure substantial compliance with established protocols such as social distancing.
“In order to accommodate additional activities in setting up the PU due to COVID-19, polls shall now commence at 8:30a.m and close at 2:30p.m,” the commission said, adding that personal protective equipment and other safety materials shall be provided for polling staff.
It said infrared thermometers would be used at the various collation centres, alcohol-based hand sanitisers at the polling units for election officials while methylated spirit and cotton wool would be provided for the disinfection of the smart card readers after the fingerprint of each voter is read.
An Electoral Act Amendment Bill seeking to make e-voting compulsory in elections passed for second reading at the Senate in November.