The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, has expressed satisfaction with Saturday’s field-testing of card readers, planned for use in validation of voters in the March 28 and April 11 general elections.
The electoral body said in a statement that the exercise, held in 12 states from the six geo-political zones of the country, was successful and will prove useful during the elections. It however acknowledged challenges in confirming finger prints.
The statement came amid controversies between the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, which opposes the use of card readers during the polls, and the opposition All Progressives Congress, APC, which backs the policy.
INEC says the cards will help combat electoral fraud.
The electoral body said it achieved 100 per cent success in its objective of verifying the authenticity of the Permanent Voter Cards presented by voters on Saturday.
On the biometric authentication of voters, INEC conceded that only 59 per cent of voters who turned out for the demonstration had their fingerprints successfully authenticated.
However, the Commission allayed fears of disenfranchisement of voters, saying provision for manual validation had long been put in place for such cases.
“The Commission, in agreement with registered political parties, had provided in the approved Guidelines for the conduct of the 2015 elections that where biometric authentication of a legitimate holder of a genuine PVC becomes challenging, there could be physical authentication of the person and completion of an Incident Form, to allow the person to vote,” the statement by spokesperson, Kayode Idowu, said.
The card readers’ test showed the devices could help generate data essential for research and planning purposes, INEC said.
“The Smart Card Readers provide disaggregated data of accredited voters in male/female and elderly/youth categories – a disaggregation that is vital for research and planning purposes, but which INEC until now had been unable to achieve. The demonstration on Saturday fully served this objective,” it stated.
The electoral body said the card readers were able to send data of all accredited voters from polling units to the Commission’s central server, thereby checking attempts at fraudulent alterations.
However, the test-run in Ebonyi State will be repeated on Saturday as the state recorded that highest number of cases of failed fingerprint validation, INEC said.
The Commission said it “took a serious view of the high rate of the SCRs’ failure to authenticate voters’ fingerprints in some areas, particularly in Ebonyi State, and has decided to thoroughly investigate the cause; as well as repeat the public demonstration in that state.
“This demonstration will be conducted in the particular Registration Area involved in the last exercise, namely Izzi Unuhu (Abakaliki Local Government Area); as well as in Ibii/Oziza Registration Area (Afikpo North LGA). The repeat demonstration will be on Saturday, March 14th 2015.”
Meanwhile, a coalition of civil society organisations, Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, has thrown its weight behind INEC on the use of card readers and permanent voter cards for the forthcoming general elections.
The group said its observation of Saturday’s test run showed that the exercise was highly successful.
Situation Room said the exercise passed integrity test and was commendable.
“On the basis of the test and assurances of improvement, Situation Room calls on the full use and deployment of the Card Readers and PVCs for the 2015 Nigeria general elections,” it said.
It observed that “the card readers functioned properly with occasional connectivity issues and the verification process of the PVC was almost seamless…”
Although it noted there were reports of delays and challenges in authentication of fingerprints, the group added, “however, people were asked to fill incident forms, which did not stop them from being accredited but slowed the process”.
Situation Room urged INEC to improve on areas where it had challenges in the course of the Saturday’s mock election.
These areas, Situation Room said, included voter education and civic orientation; biometric authentication process; transportation of electoral personnel, especially in the rural areas; and “issue of discrepancies of details on the PVC and the card reader in a way that the Card Reader can be reconfigured in a timely manner so as to avoid disenfranchisement of any voter.”