Why does INEC have to close the voter registration process?

Dec 21, 2022|Stears Explains

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is responsible for conducting elections in Nigeria, including ensuring the proper registration of eligible voters.

However, court cases have challenged INEC’s decision to close the continuous voter registration process and its implication for the election process.

Why does INEC close voter registration at all?

INEC’s ability to manage the voter registration exercise is tied to provisions in the Electoral Act 2022

Essentially, INEC closes voter registration to comply with timelines in the Electoral Act.

Firstly, Section 19 compels INEC to display the voter register for the election so that it can accept claims, such as if a voter has been omitted. INEC also displays the voter register to receive objections such as proof of people who should not be registered, e.g. under-aged people. Finally, this register must also be available at every ward and local government, a logistical hurdle.

But even before displaying the voter register, INEC needs to review the data it has received from online registrations and then run the necessary checks to remove any multiple entries. It’s important to note that Nigeria’s large and growing population means that such a process can be quite long. 

So when should this register be closed?

What does the Electoral Act say about closing registration?

Section 17 of the Electoral Act mandates INEC to stop voter registration less than 90 days before the election. This wording means that INEC is technically allowed to stop registration at any point but has to do so less than three months before the election. 

This timeline has been at the heart of several court petitions to stop INEC from closing registration. For example, INEC’s 2023 election end date for registration was 30 June 2022. But it got an extension after a court order following a series of petitions, notably led by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP). INEC complied with the court decision by extending the deadline to 31 July 2022 and adding new registration windows over the weekend.

What impact does this have on the election?

The registration window determines the number of eligible voters in any election. INEC must close the register within 90 days of an election but reopen it afterwards to allow citizens to join the voters' list for subsequent elections. 

The registration process for the 2023 elections saw an increased number of registered voters, with 93.5 million voters announced before the claims and objections phase.

Where else?