Voter Education:  Reducing the incidence of void votes 

By David Dogo

The National Orientation Agency has commenced intensive nationwide voter education towards ensuring peaceful, transparent and credible 2019 elections. The Agency is focusing on three key areas: Void Votes, Peaceful Elections and Vote Buying. Today, we shall be looking at void votes.  A ballot is said to be spoilt, wasted, void, null or invalid if an electoral authority determines that it cannot be included in the vote count. This may occur accidentally or deliberately. Elections in Nigeria are often characterised by large number of invalid votes and the progressive increase in the number of invalid votes has become worrisome. The number of invalid votes could be too high to determine the outcome of an election. Curbing the number of void votes is one way of making the votes of the electorates count. During the 2015 Presidential Election, a total of 844,519 votes were rejected as invalid out of the 29,432,083 votes cast. Void ballot is one that has been destroyed or marked in such a way that election officials are unable to identify the voter’s candidate preference. This is because the voter’s preference is indiscernible. Void votes are tallied and then discarded as wasted votes. Key property of void votes is that these votes are counted and excluded from the final vote tally and do not count towards final election outcomes. They shrink the overall votes from which election outcomes are decided. High rate of invalid votes effectively decrease the number of votes a candidate requires to win election. Consequently, a significantly high number of invalid ballots if driven by mistakes or electoral fraud can jeopardize the electoral outcome and the entire electoral process.

In general, in most large elections, there is relatively small fraction of votes that are counted as invalid. However, when electoral race is tight even a small number of votes can make a difference for the electoral outcome and thus the demerit of void votes. If the share of void ballot is significantly high as compared to the margin of victory of the winning candidate; and if the presence of invalid ballots is driven by voter’s mistakes, then such ballots might seriously undermine the correct functioning of the electoral system. A ballot can be considered invalid for different reasons. A good example is when the voter casts more than one preference when only one preference is allowed or takes an action that undermines the secrecy of the vote, such as signing the ballot paper.

It is pertinent that every vote should count in an election. This can be achieved by voting in the right way. To vote correctly therefore, you must note the following guidelines: Identify the political party or candidate of your choice; do not vote for two parties or candidates on the same ballot, just one thumbprint in the right place on your ballot paper; your thumbprint should not be placed outside the box or across the line; do not allow any spill of ink into another space; never leave your ballot paper empty; do not write on your ballot paper, just thumbprint; do not squeeze your ballot paper; place your ballot paper in the correct box as designated for the various elective positions. 

The voter education programme of the National Orientation Agency (NOA) is currently ongoing in all the states and 774 Local Government Areas of the country to enlighten particularly those in the rural areas on how they can exercise their franchise by voting correctly. The campaign is targeted at traditional institutions, media organisations, youth groups, market women associations, faith-based groups and civil society organisations among others. Our strategy involves engaging these various groups and empowering them with the right information as issued by INEC to also go and educate their teeming members. Given the importance of voter education, we urge political parties to also join in the effort to enlighten their supporters on the need for them to participate in the election and vote correctly. With 91 political parties and over 70 presidential candidates participating in the February 16, 2019 elections, the challenge of voter education has become enormous. This calls for collective effort of all stakeholders. A void vote negates all efforts invested into making your preferred candidate to emerge as winner. After going through the rigours of voter’s registration and collection of Permanent Voter’s Card (PVC), and the voting process itself, it becomes futile and nonsensical if in the process of voting you mistakenly or accidentally vote incorrectly and rendering your vote void or invalid. You must not let this happen. Be cautious and meticulous when casting your vote. The ballot paper will be unusually long in view of the number of political parties participating. After voting, allow some seconds for the ink to dry and fold the ballot paper gently and drop into the correct box as designated for the various elective offices. If you truly want your vote to count and to make the desired difference, then ensure that you vote wisely and correctly. God bless Nigeria.