Electronic Voting : Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) in Nigeria 2023
Electronic voting (also known as e-voting) is voting that uses electronic means to either aid or take care of casting and counting ballots. Depending on the particular implementation, e-voting may use standalone electronic voting machines (also called EVM) or computers connected to the Internet (online voting).
It may encompass a range of Internet services, from basic transmission of tabulated results to full-function online voting through common connectable household devices. The degree of automation may be limited to marking a paper ballot, or may be a comprehensive system of vote input, vote recording, data encryption and transmission to servers, and consolidation and tabulation of election results.
A worthy e-voting system must perform most of these tasks while complying with a set of standards established by regulatory bodies, and must also be capable to deal successfully with strong requirements associated with security, accuracy, integrity, swiftness, privacy, auditability, accessibility, cost-effectiveness, scalability and ecological sustainability.
Electronic voting technology can include punched cards, optical scan voting systems and specialized voting kiosks (including self-contained direct-recording electronic voting systems, or DRE). It can also involve transmission of ballots and votes via telephones, private computer networks, or the Internet.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has continued to introduce technological interventions to make elections better. These interventions haven’t been without challenges and time has in turn brought about more advanced solutions.
As the nation moves toward the 2023 General Election, a more advanced technological intervention called the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) has been introduced and tested.
This article highlights what you need to know about this technology and how it works.
Technological Evolution in the Nigerian Electoral Process
In 1999, voter registration, voting, result-collation, and transmission were done manually. Fast forward to 2016, and voter registration, accreditation, and result transmission became digitalized, from the Electronic Voters Register (EVR) to the Automatic Fingerprints Identification System (AFIS), to the Smart Card Reader (SCR), and recently, the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS).
The need to make Nigerian elections more credible and transparent made the INEC introduce BVAS. Although this technology has been around for some time, it was first tested in the Isoko South Constituency Iby-election in Delta State on September 10, 2021.
It was subsequently deployed in the Anambra State governorship election on November 6, 2021, and used again in the Ekiti and Osun governorship elections.
Despite the concerns raised about the BVAS, especially by politicians, INEC has made it clear that there is no going back on its use in the 2023 General Election.
How the BVAS Works
The Bimodal Voter Accreditation System is an electronic device created to read Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) and verify the voter holding the card by using his/her fingerprints and facial recognition.
The hardware components of the BVAS are shown in the image below.
The image below shows the BVAS election dashboard with all the key options to begin voter accreditation. It shows Polling Unit information, the total number of registered voters, and the total number of accredited voters.
Apart from the above function, the BVAS will also be used to transmit a snapshot of the result sheet at polling units to the INEC portal in real time for the public to see, as long as they are logged in to the portal.
One of the challenges faced in the electoral process is the irregularities that take place between the Polling Units (PUs) and the result collation centers. Results are, sometimes, hijacked, changed, or even destroyed.
This led INEC to consider using the BVAS technology in transmitting the results directly from the PUs.
This system minimizes human error and delays in results collation. It also improves the accuracy, transparency, and credibility of the result-collation process.
This, therefore, implies that the BVAS must first read a voter’s PVC and authenticate him/her as the rightful holder of the card before the person would be able to vote on election day,
Voting will be impossible without the two-step verification.
The INEC chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, has confirmed that the BVAS machine works offline and does not rely on the internet to accredit voters on election day.
“It only needs a network for the transmission of results,” the INEC chairman told the BBC.
Electronic voting technology intends to speed the counting of ballots, reduce the cost of paying staff to count votes manually and can provide improved accessibility for disabled voters. Also in the long term, expenses are expected to decrease. Results can be reported and published faster.
Voters save time and cost by being able to vote independently from their location. This may increase overall voter turnout. The citizen groups benefiting most from electronic elections are the ones living abroad, citizens living in rural areas far away from polling stations and the disabled with mobility impairments.