In 1999, Nigeria returned to a democratic form of government. Since then, it has held elections for various elective positions–from the presidency and national assembly members to state governors and state assembly members–at determined intervals, often four years.
However, elections at different levels cover different areas of the political cycle. For instance, general elections come after primary elections—a political cycle where parties pick and vote for candidates that will represent them.
The different levels also cover who is eligible to vote in these elections and what the winning participant is entitled to.
In this explainer, we will delve into these levels, or what we also call types of elections, and highlight the processes that must be in place for elections to happen.
The types of elections we will cover include primary, general, run-off, supplementary and re-run election processes. So let's dig in.
What are the different types of elections?
In most cases, before a party presents a candidate as its nominee for any elected position, there is usually a contest to narrow down the field from a group of different people. These are often party members interested in the position–for example, an assembly seat or an executive position like the president.
In this case, a primary election is organised by the party and governed by its internal rules. These might include certain provisions for those who are allowed to take part in the contest or who are even allowed to vote for the eventual winners.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is mandated to observe the process to ensure due compliance with general electoral guidelines.
The winner of a primary election is declared as the party candidate who then battles it out at the general elections with candidates vying for the same position (e.g. governors) from other political parties.
When candidates emerge from a primary election, they are presented as their political party's nominee in the general election. General elections, one of the types of elections, are often contested across a wider populace irrespective of party affiliation.
Elections for the presidency, national assembly, governorship and state house of assembly are supervised by INEC directly, with observation from accredited civil society organisations and external partners. The winner of a general election is duly declared elected to the seat they have vied for.
While most elections are easily resolved within a single contest, sometimes the winner is not easily determined. It might be because a candidate from a political party cannot get the requirements needed to get elected on the first ballot or because an issue might have precluded some voters from participating. In any case, there are several special elections acknowledged by the constitution.
There is a provision for a secondary election, also run by INEC and mostly known as a run-off. This election is held when a candidate cannot receive the necessary votes to be declared a winner in the first instance. This often results in a larger group getting narrowed down to two candidates so voters can choose between a smaller group.
The rationale is to ensure the winning candidate gets a simple majority (more than half of the votes cast). In some unique cases, it can still include ensuring some provisions, such as getting a certain number of votes in a certain number of states.
Election management bodies determine a timetable of processes leading to an election, including, in some cases, staggering the different elections across different days. However, if, for different reasons, some elections cannot take place, the election management body determines another day to hold a supplementary election.
Perhaps the most well-known of special elections, a re-run is carried out when votes in polling units or areas of an election are cancelled. These can be done for various reasons, such as violence, over-voting and electoral malpractice. When this takes place, there are two questions asked. The first is how many voters are affected by the procedure. The second is if the number of affected voters is greater or less than the margin between the successful candidate and the runner-up.
Let’s assume there is an election in Kanga, where Candidate A has polled 170,000 votes, and Candidate B has polled 160,000 votes.
Unfortunately, nine polling units with 1,000 votes each were cancelled, which saw 9,000 votes cancelled. Because the margin of lead between the winner and runner-up (10,000) is more than the cancelled votes, we can infer that it wouldn’t make a difference even if they all voted for Candidate B. Therefore, Candidate A would still be returned, elected.
However, if, say, there were 11 polling units with 1,000 votes each within the same example, then we can see that the margin is less than the total number of cancelled votes. As a result, a re-run is conducted within the affected polling units to see how changes can affect the outcome of the result.
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