(Vanguard of Sunday, May 14, 2006)
I was saying last week that voting machines are the in-thing for elections more because of effective marketing by those who make and sell them than that they are more to be trusted than, say, Option A4 and Open Ballot system which gave us the freest and most credible elections in 1993. Option A4 was simple. You stood behind your candidate or his agent and the electoral officers counted the supporters and recorded the outcome; and all parties signed the papers and went home. Option A4 was thus a nomination process and was the mode of choosing the candidates for the 1993 Presidential elections, from their wards through the local government and state primaries to the national conventions of the parties that chose them.
The Presidential Election of June 12, 1993 was, however, by Open Secret System. This again was simple and uncomplicated. You went to where you registered to vote at a time the National Electoral Commission said you should report. You collected your ballot paper, went into an enclosure, marked the party of your choice, folded the paper and came out into the open to push the paper into the one ballot box provided. Your selection of candidate was secret but the voting was open, and so also was the counting of the votes.
The Option A4 and OSB had their problems. Those counting would jump numbers, and those willing to compromise would ensure that returns of their choices were made. The open ballot system was even worse, watertight, as it seemed. It was this system that was used in all the elections in 2004. The truth is that the 1999 elections were tolerable; the 2003 elections killed choice through the electoral process, and the 2004 elections buried the freedom to choose. If the most open ways of making a choice that Nigerians have used because of abuses we subjected the ballot to in the 60’s can be manipulated with the disdain of 2003 and 2004, the choice of the electronic voting system for the 2007 elections, if they hold, is going to be scientific modernization of our manipulative potentials. So we must all rise to resist any attempt to introduce electronic voting here in Nigeria when our experience of vote management has been one of implementing all imaginable methods of theft and graft any evil mind can fathom and fashion. The outcome has therefore become predictable. If you are in charge of the Electoral Process, you win elections. And everyone celebrates because they had more guts than the losers.
The first stage of the struggle to ensure free and fair elections in the land is to establish faith in the voting system. We are far away from the electronic system of voting because it will increase our electoral travails. I informed you last week that an investigator in the United States of America published a compendium of 56 documented cases in which voting machines got it wrong. And what did I say the vendors tell you when they are confronted? They never accept that they had acted to brief, that the machines can be manipulated, even that they can malfunction.
At a time when even in the United States there is concern about the efficiency of paperless electronic voting systems which are supposed to be improvements on punch-card and mechanical voting systems, we seem to have been all over the place pushing for the introduction of what will further lead to more suspicion of INCE’s capacity to conduct credible elections. The more people protest the abuse potentials of these machines, the more the vendors push for their adoption by those who are not even literate enough to know what is going on.
Look at what a research team in the United States says about DRE (Direct Recording Electronic) voting systems which completely eliminate paper ballots from the voting process, like the Option A4:
“The most fundamental problem with such a voting system is that the entire election hinges on the correctness, robustness, and security of the software within the voting terminal. Should that code have security-relevant flaws, they might be exploitable either by unscrupulous voters or by malicious insiders. Such insiders include election officials, the developers of the voting system and the developers of the embedded operating system on which the voting system runs. If any party introduces flaws into the voting system soft-ware or take advantage of pre-existing flaws, then the results of the election cannot be assured to accurately reflect the votes legally cast by the voters”. (From Analyses of an Electronic Voting System by Tadayoshi Kohno of the Dept. of Computer Science and Engineering, University of California, and others).
Kohno and his colleagues advised people like our Maurice Iwu of INEC and those in the National Assembly who must monitor and make valuable contributions to the discussion of what voting methods to adopt, to ask voting system machine vendors at least six questions: The first question is if the system has been reviewed by a large number of outside security experts. If so, who are they; what are their credentials; do their areas of expertise cover a wide area of specialties within the discipline of cryptography and computer security? Can the vendor produce an executive summary of their report? The second question is whether the vendor allows the public to review the security and reliability of the voting system’s source code. Is the security of system dependant on the vendor’s source code being secret? If so, public or to well-funded adversaries? The third question is whether the vendor would be willing to have a panel outside security experts to review the source code of his system. Would the vendor allow them to publish an executive summary of their findings? If not, why not? The fourth question is who designed and developed the source code used in the vendor’s system? What are their credentials with respect to cryptography and computer security? Where were they trained, and have these developers worked on cryptography and computer security in other systems outside of voting software? The fifth question is how confident the vendor is in the security and reliability of his product? Would he certify the security and reliability of his product? If somebody purchased the equipment and later found that it was vulnerable to certain types of defined attacks, would the vendor offer a full refund plus damages? Would he offer a full refund plus damages if after an election it was determined that the machines reported an inaccurate total or a system glitch? And determined that voters’ anonymity was compromised allowing votes to be bought and sold? And what other situations would he offer a full refund plus damages? The sixth and final question is what can the voters do if they feel that in the vendor’s system their votes were not recorded properly. Are there any mechanisms for voters to verify that their votes are correct? What happens in the case of a dispute? Is a manual recount (that is not requiring any computer software) possible?
Would Murice still be pushing for electronic voting machines of any description if all the questions hereinabove had not been adequately answered? If so, we must ask him whose agenda he us inflicting on us who have been unable to live with abuses of the ballot that have been so demeaning, and so blatantly open and oppressive. If election riggers can have ballot boxes snatched at gun point with the full support of compromised and shameless security agents, would achieving the same purpose of depriving the people the only viable option they have to question their excesses?