COVID-19: INEC wants election declared as essential service

Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 PHOTO: Twitter

****mulls full deployment of e-voting from 2021

****mandates use of face mask at polling units

****Suspends Continuous Voters Registration

****asks parties to develop COVID-19 guidelines regarding primaries

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has said it would engage with relevant authorities, including the National Assembly, to designate election as an essential service due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Guardian reports that election was not part of essential services announced by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 during the lockdown.

But according to INEC, having election declared as essential service would enable the electoral body function effectively in times of national emergency.

The commission also expressed readiness to pilot the use of Electronic voting machines at the earliest possible time and have a full introduction of the system in major elections starting from 2021.

The pilot phase however, would not include the governorship elections in Edo and Ondo States slated for September 19, and October 10, 2020.

These were contained in a policy document, signed by INEC’s chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, and titled “Policy on Conducting Elections in the context of COVID-19 pandemic” released on Monday.

The policy covers health and legal issues, election planning and operations, election day and post-election activities, voter registration, political parties, election observation, electoral security and deployment of technology in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Regarding the forthcoming governorship polls Edo and Ondo, including the outstanding by-elections, the policy mandated the compulsory use of face mask at polling Units and all election locations, saying that voter without a face mask would be turned away from the polling unit.

Yakubu advised political parties to develop appropriate guidelines and regulations for conduct of party primaries that take into
account the COVID-19 prevention protocols.

According to him, where such guidelines and regulations are in conflict with the constitutions of political parties and the commissions’ regulations and guidelines for the conduct of party primaries, it would draw the attention of the political party to the discrepancies.

Yakubu regretted that not only has the pandemic, led to far-reaching disruptions in the electoral system, it has also led to the postponement of elections and created uncertainties about scheduled ones.

He announced the suspension of Continuous Registration of Voters (CVR), saying that would prevent the health risks associated with it in the context of COVID-19.

He added that a new election budget template to reflect the likely impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the funding profile of electoral
activities would be developed.

On the rising cost of conducting frequent bye-elections in the country, the INEC boss sought for a review in the electoral law.

“The Commission will engage with the legislature and other stakeholders to explore ways of responding to the , especially in
consideration of the Supreme Court position that votes belong primarily to political parties, as well as the Commission’s records,
which show that only in 10 per cent of all bye-elections since 2015 did the party that won originally lose the election.”

He observed that INEC would engage the PTF and health authorities to have in place a system of voluntary COVID-19 testing for INEC staff
before and after deploying for elections.

Other guidelines include: “The Commission shall provide face masks for all election officials.

“Alcohol based hand sanitizers will be provided for election officials at the polling units.

“Methylated Spirit and cotton wool will be provided for the disinfection of the Smart
Card Readers (SCRs) after the fingerprint of each voter is read.

“The rules of physical distancing shall be enforced at all election activities including stakeholder engagements, training, queuing
at Polling Units, etc.

” Conduct immeidiate discussion with state government where elections are to hold concerning lockdowns, curfews, etc . and how they might affect elections.

“The Commission will engage immediately with NYSC and INEC State Offices to evolve modalities for corps members to serve as ad hoc
staff in elections during the pandemic.

“In the establishment of Voting Points, in order to reduce the number of points in a Polling Unit to be monitored and controlled
for COVID-19 compliance, the threshold for Voting Points shall be increased from 500/750 to 1,000/1,250.

He disclosed that INEC would create e-platforms for accreditation of observer groups and deployment of their field observers, submission of nomination forms by political panties for candidates as well as tracking and reporting of campaigns and campaign finance by/for candidates and political Parties.

He noted that the policy would apply to all elections and electoral activities of the Commission during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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