The Ballot Papers And Electoral Act, 2022 By Amauche Onyedum, Esq
Days before the Presidential and National Assembly Elections of 2023, slated for 25th February 2023, media reports came crawling out, about the omission of the name of a registered and renowned political party, from the ballot papers. This brought panic to many who believed that the disenfranchisement of the name of the political party from the ballot paper would affect the voters, who all they know about the party is the name of the party not the logo of the party which reflected on the ballot paper.
This situation injected the research syringe and drew out this pint of article, to quell the panic and also avoid approaching the Election Tribunal with unweighty petitions.
BALLOT PAPER: WHAT IT IS
Considering the numerous forms and documents required for the election process, it is important we spell out that a ballot paper (or election paper) is a form which voters fill out in order to exercise their right to vote. Ballot papers list the candidates running for an election and the voter can mark their preferences accordingly. Ballot papers are considered official documents.
In order to ensure the election is legally valid, the creation and distribution of ballot papers must fulfill certain requirements. For instance, all voters must receive identical ballot papers (print, size, color etc.). Moreover, the boxes displaying each candidate have to be the same font and size.
The traditional form of ballots are paper ballots, but ballots can also be created online and used digitally, or filled out by using a voting machine.
FORMAT OF BALLOT PAPERS AS PRESCRIBED BY THE ELECTORAL ACT,2022
Section 42(1) to (5) of the Electoral Act, 2022 (of Nigeria) stipulated the mode of ballot papers and whose responsibility it is to prescribe such format.
Section 42(1) of the Electoral Act, 2022, did not only empower but mandated the Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC) or the Commission as the Electoral Act, 2022 referred to it, to prescribe the format of the ballot papers which shall include the symbol adopted by the political party of the candidate and such other information as it may require.
Section 42(2) equally mandated that the ballot papers shall be numbered serially with differentiating colors for each office being contested. This is to avoid all forms of confusion on the respective offices being contested for. In the just concluded election, this provision mandated that the ballot paper for the Presidential election must have a color different from the Senatorial election ballot paper and the colors of the Presidential and Senatorial election ballot papers must be different from the House of Representatives election ballot paper.
Section 42(3) provides that the INEC shall not later than 20 days to an election, invite in writing, a political party that nominated a candidate in the election to inspect its identity appearing on samples of relevant electoral materials, proposed for the election and the political party may state in writing within two days of being so invited by the Commission that it approves or disapproves of its identity as it appears on the samples.
This brings us to Section 42(4) which provides that if the political party fails to disapprove of its identity under subsection (3) in writing, it shall not complain of unlawful exclusion from the election under this Act in relation to its identity appearing on electoral materials used for the election.
Consequently, Section 42(5) stamped its foot on the fact that if a political party fails to comply with an invitation by the INEC under subsection (3) it shall be deemed that the political party accepted the said identity on samples of electoral materials proposed to be used for an election.
Sequel to the live situation where the name of a political party was not included but its logo was on the ballot sheets, the questions that bug for reply are: Did INEC invite the political party to inspect its identity and within the stipulated time? Did the political party honor the invitation and within the stipulated time? Did the political party approve or disapprove its identity, in writing within the stipulated time? If the Political party was given this opportunity and it approved same or kept tightlipped about the identity then INEC has no case to answer. However, if the INEC did not grant the political party the opportunity to inspect its identity, or it ignored the disapproval by the political party, then it has a case to answer.
Other than the provisions of the Electoral Act,2022, the Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC) may exercise its discretion on additional components in the format of ballot papers.