A News Analysis by Angela Atabo, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)
Political analysts restate that elections empower citizens by giving them the opportunity to choose leaders.
They also observe that as a tool for holding public offices and for making leaders accountable, political processes are sensitive and the management of such processes requires cooperation and understanding of the stakeholders.
According to them, in most cases in Nigeria and other developing nations, voters’ registration, party primaries and announcement of results, are somewhat plagued with reports of irregularities by stakeholders.
They note that such development, especially in Nigeria, dampens the confidence of the public in democratic processes thereby causing suspicion of the activities of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
In an effort to reduce the level of suspicion in electoral processes, the Philippine National Citizen Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL) says it has introduced Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT) as a method of verifying election results.
NAMFREL also says PVT is an election observation methodology that is based on a representative random sample of polling units and it is employed for independent verification or challenge of election results.
It notes further that the methodology was first used in Zambia and it was useful in checking malpractice during elections in 1991 that country.
According to it, PVT has made contributions to the integrity and security of elections in Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Kenya, among other African countries.
In Nigeria, a non-governmental organisation, YIAGAAFRIC, introduced PVT on the platform of an observation project — WatchingTheVote.
Mr Samson Itodo, the executive director of the organisation, said that the PVT was in use in Nigeria for the purpose of empowering citizens to improve the quality of Nigerian elections and to independently verify official election results.
According to him, the PVT uses statistics and draws a sample of polling units which determines which polling unit observers will observe on election day.
He said that PVT was used during the 2011 and 2015 general elections and had been adopted for the observation of more than 15 off-cycle state elections.
He said that the group supports Nigeria’s democracy through WatchingTheVote to promote electoral integrity in Nigeria and Africa.
“The aim is to ensure that citizens’ votes count by deterring fraud and detecting manipulation during the conduct of elections and collation of results.
“PVT will provide timely and accurate information about the election process to voters and stakeholders, and ultimately build citizens’ confidence in the elections.
“WatchingTheVote project uses the PVT which is an advanced election day observation methodology relying on statistical principles, information and communication technology to gather reports from citizen observers accredited by INEC to observe the conduct of elections’’, he said.
Itodo claimed that PVT would present accurate and comprehensive assessment of the election day processes such as whether or not election officials followed the guidelines for the conduct of elections, the presence of security agents, the presence and behaviour of party agents, secrecy of the ballot and transparency of the counting process.
He also claimed that “PVT is the only observation methodology that can independently verify the accuracy of election day result as released by electoral commission which is the body legally mandated to do so’’.
Similarly, Mr Paul James, YIAGA AFRICA’s WatchingTheVote Training Manager, explained PVT could provide comprehensive and accurate picture of the election process in the 2019 general elections.
James said report from PVT would show voting patterns and conducts during election day, observing that the speed of transmitting information through the PVT would ensure calculated instantaneous calculation of the results.
“For example, the 2015 presidential election found that at 24 per cent of polling units people were accredited even though the card readers could not complete the two-step verification process’’, he said.
James said that PVT also detected incidences of harassment showing that in 96 per cent of polling units, there were no incidents of harassment against polling officers, party agents or observers during the voting process.
He, nonetheless, said that during Feb. 16 presidential election, WatchingTheVote observation on election day would include systematic observation of the voting and counting process at a representative random sample polling units.
According to him, it would also rely on statistical principle and the use of information and communication technology to rapidly transmit observer reports from the polling units to a central database.
“This methodology supports text messages transmitted through mobile phones to a central database that enables the WatchingTheVote project to share timely findings and analyses on the conduct of the election.
“The messages as sent in by the observers are analysed so that WatchingTheVote can present objective, non-partisan information on the conduct of the election in near real-time and verify the accuracy of the official results’’, he explained.
He, however, said “WatchingTheVote does not announce official results; this is the responsibility of INEC’’.
In her explanation, Mrs Cynthia Mbamalu, WatchingTheVote Project Director, said that the project would observe the elections across the country by using advanced observation methodology.
“For the 2019 Presidential election, WatchingTheVote will deploy a total number of 3,030 polling unit observers to be supported by other voting point observers.
“WatchingTheVote will also have 822 roving observers present in all 774 local government areas of the country and in all 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory.
“They will use their mobile phones to send coded text messages of observation reports to YIAGA AFRICA’s WatchingTheVote National Data Centre in Abuja.
“Each observer will receive a structured observation checklist and a tally sheet to ensure uniformity in the observation process.
“WatchingTheVote observers will report on the opening of polling units, accreditation and voting, counting and the announcement/posting of results’’, she said.
In the light of this explanations, Mr Moshood Isah, Communication Officer, YIAGA AFRICA, said that the benefit of the PVT could not be underestimated, noting that INEC had recognized the use of PVT.
“Apart from being timely and accurate PVT can also deter, detect fraud and manipulations, verify election results and reduce the potential for electoral violence, among others.
“PVT is an attempt at providing all stakeholders in election including the public with credible independent and impartial information on the conduct of election day’’, he said.