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INEC wants govt to declare election essential service

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•Mulls e-voting in 2021, e-platforms for Edo, Ondo guber forms’ submission
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) yesterday 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 learnt that polls were not part of the essential services announced by the Presidential Task Force (PTF) 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 emergencies.

The commission also expressed readiness to test-run 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 10,2010.

The pieces of information were contained in a document signed by INEC’s Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, and titled “Policy on Conducting elections in the context of COVID-19 pandemic.”

The plan 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 novel coronavirus.

Regarding the forthcoming governorship polls in Edo and Ondo, including the outstanding by-elections, the strategy mandated the compulsory use of facemasks at polling units and locations, as a defaulting voter would be rejected.

Yakubu advised political parties to develop appropriate guidelines and regulations for the conduct of their primaries, taking into account the COVID-19 protocols.

He announced the suspension of the Continuous Registration of Voters (CVR), saying it would prevent the associated health risks.

The chairman hinted that INEC would engage the PTF and health authorities to have in place a system of voluntary COVID-19 testing for its staff before and after elections.

Besides, the electoral umpire would adopt electronic platforms for the submission of nomination forms by political parties and other activities in the two states the governorship elections are holding this year.

Also the policy stated that tracking of campaign funds, accreditation of observer groups, submission of party agents’ lists and engagement with stakeholders would be conducted electronically.

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