In the lead-up to the 2023 general elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) established approximately 60,000 additional polling units, augmenting the existing 120,000 units.
In doing this, INEC split polling stations with up to 5,000 voters into two and transferred voters to the new units. But most of the voters found it difficult to locate their new polling units. Also, many people were unaware they had been moved to new units.
That was when the Geographic Information System (GIS) project intervened.
The GIS is an intervention under the component one of the European Union Support to Democratic Governance in Nigeria (EU-SDGN), the EU’s flagship democracy support programme in Nigeria that provides support to Nigeria’s electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission. The component that provides support to Nigeria’s electoral umpire is implemented by DAI Global. The EU-SDGN, implemented by 16 organizations, is designed to complement the efforts of the Nigerian government to improve and strengthen democracy.
The objective of the GIS project was to help INEC to geo-locate all polling stations, totaling 176,846 across 8,809 registration areas or electoral wards in the country.
Currently, INEC has the GIS coordinates of every polling unit, which can be used for polling unit tracking, security and logistics planning, and more.
What is GIS?
GIS is a technology that integrates geographic data with non-spatial information, enabling users to analyze, interpret, and visualize data within a geographic context to support decision-making and problem-solving processes.
The EU-SDGN recognizes that GIS can be instrumental during elections, particularly for polling units. It can help the electoral process by allowing for accurate mapping and spatial representation of polling units, their boundaries, and associated administrative areas. This enables election officials to have a clear understanding of the geographic distribution and arrangement of polling units.
It also assists in strategic planning and resource allocation during elections. By analysing the distribution of polling units and their proximity to facilities such as transportation, security, and voter registration centres, election administrators can optimise logistics and allocate resources efficiently.
GIS can be integrated with voter registration databases to enable real-time verification of voter information based on their geographical location. This helps prevent fraud and ensures that voters are assigned to the correct polling units. It can also facilitate the process of redistricting and boundary delimitation by population data, demographics, and geographic features. This aids in ensuring that polling units are evenly distributed and aligned with legal requirements.
To improve voter education and enhance accessibility to the electoral process, GIS technology can be utilised to develop interactive maps and online platforms that provide voters with information about their assigned polling units, directions to the polling stations, and any changes in voting locations.
It can support election monitoring efforts by integrating real-time data from polling units, such as voter turnout, reported incidents, and electoral results. This allows for comprehensive analysis and visualisation of election data, enabling stakeholders to identify trends, patterns, and potential issues.
Mapping polling units and relevant infrastructure helps security agencies to strategically deploy personnel and respond swiftly to any emergencies or disturbances.
To achieve the GIS plan, an EU-SDGN collaboration group dispatched a team to each of the 774 local government areas across Nigeria and the Federal Capital Territory, working with election officers to take the coordinates of all the polling units.
The planning phase of the project was done in collaboration with partners experienced in GIS data collection. It is important to note that it is not only about collecting the data, but also setting up the back end to capture and process the data for use by INEC.
To create awareness on this, SMS notifications were sent to voters informing them of their new polling units. Advertisements were circulated on both traditional and social media informing voters that INEC has reallocated them from overcrowded polling units to less populated ones. They were also told how to verify their polling units – visit https://www.voters.
During the 2019 elections, several challenges were encountered regarding the locating of polling units and overcrowding at polling units. Some of these challenges ranged from inaccurate location information to voter apathy. Areas, often in remote regions, with incorrect addresses or poorly marked polling units made it difficult for voters to find their designated polling stations.
Inadequate and poor distribution of polling units led to overcrowding in the available ones and long voting time.
There were also cases of polling units lacking basic amenities such as shelter, seating arrangements, or sanitation facilities, causing discomfort and, sometimes, forcing voters to leave the polling units.
Security concerns were also rife. In certain areas, threats of violence and intimidation forced voters to stay away from the polling units.
In addition, ahead of the 2023 general elections, INEC stated that voting would not take place in 240 polling units in 28 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja. This was because no voter chose the polling units during the last Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) between June 2021 and July 2022.
Addressing these challenges requires proactive measures, including improved mapping and geospatial data management to ensure accurate and up-to-date location information for polling units. It is also important to locate polling units in safe areas to encourage voter turnout. Security should be strengthened to ensure the safety and protection of voters and polling units.
Also needed is adequate planning and allocation of polling units based on population density and geographical distribution and enhanced voter education and awareness campaigns to inform voters about their assigned polling units and provide clear directions.
Polling unit infrastructure and facilities should also be expanded to accommodate larger voter turnout and enhance the voting experience.
Regular review and assessment of polling unit distribution is necessary to identify areas with overcrowding and make adjustments for subsequent elections.
By addressing these challenges, Nigeria can strive to improve the electoral process, enhance voter experience, and ensure a more efficient and inclusive democratic exercise. Through its programmes, the EU continues to support the Nigerian government to achieve these aims.
Rudolf Elbling leads the first component of the European Union’s Support to Democratic Governance in Nigeria. The component focuses on supporting Electoral Management Bodies.