The Electoral Commission | Definition, Features, Functions & Problems
What is an Electoral Commission?
As said in our previous article, some countries establish electoral commissions to conduct elections into political offices. In some countries, there is only one central electoral body while few others have several electoral commissions. Yet the local government serves as the electoral umpire in a country like the USA.
Nigeria, for example, has both a central electoral commission and state electoral commissions which are responsible for the organisation and conduct of elections at different levels in the political system.
Features of Electoral Commission
Features of electoral commissions includes the following;
Organizing and Conducting Elections – It is the body responsible for organising and conducting all elections in a political system.
Free and Fair Election – The commission is responsible for the conduct of free and fair election in a country.
Announcing of Election Results – it has the sole power of announcing election results.
Independent Body – It is an independent and impartial electoral body.
Controlled and Headed by a Chairman – The commission is controlled by the chairman while other members are appointed.
Fixed Tenure of Office – The members of this commission have a fixed tenure of office.
Resident Commissioner – There resident commissioners for each states of the federation.
A Neutral Body – It is a neutral body and should be non-partisan in outlook.
It is Guided by the Constitution – This commission has the backing of the law in all its dispensation and actions.
Honesty and Fairplay – The Commission should be honest and just in its decision-making especially with the conduct of the elections.
The Electoral Commission performs largely similar functions in every country. They include the following:
Demarcation of Constituencies
The Electoral Commission delimits of demarcates the constituencies. It is usually done on a regular basis. In Ghana, the delimitation of constituencies is carried out every 7 years or within 12 months after a census.
The 1999 Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria, for example, stipulates what constitutes a constituency in Nigeria, Section 73(1) of the constitution gives Electoral Commission powers to review constituency every 10 years.
Registration of Voters and Display of Voters Register
A major function of an electoral body is the registration of voters. Ideally, the exercise should be done on a regular basis and should be carried out by full-time civil service employees. It also displays the voters register for the electorate to raise objections on pin point names that should not be on the list. The rigging of election begins with the registration of voters and it is therefore a highly political process.
Registration of Political Parties
The Electoral Commission registered political parties or their symbols. It is a regular and continuous exercise.
Polling of Votes
The commission makes arrangement for voters to cast their votes. The responsibility for allowing or refusing to allow a registered voter to vote is a great responsibility.
Counting of Votes
The counting of votes polled at polling stations and other designated centres is also the responsibility of the commission.
Certification of Results
The commission ensures that the results of elections certified and released. the success or failure of an Electoral Commission depends largely on its ability to perform this function well.
Education of Voters and Publicity
It is the responsibility of the commission to educate voters on issues pertaining to elections including registration, confirmation of names on electoral register, and how to mark the ballot papers. It also informs the public about the activities of the commission and arrangements for elections. This is without prejudice to the role of political parties as change agents and educators of their members.
Recruitment and Discipline of Electoral Officials
The commission appoints, trains and disciplines its own staff. Because of its huge responsibilities, the commission is bound to use thousands of full-time and part-time employees although most of them are usually temporary officials. This creates problems of discipline, as it is difficult for the commission to discipline people who are not its own permanent staff and who may have their own hidden interest.
Procurement, Custody and Distribution of Electoral Materials
The commission uses electoral materials such as registration forms, voters’ cards, ballot papers, indelible ink, and resort sheets. These are essentially security materials which have to be kept in safe custody if they are not to fall into the wrong hands. The commission ensures not only the procurement and safekeeping of these items but also their distribution to the polling stations where they are needed.
Advisory Services to Government on Electoral Issues
The commission also serves as an advisory body to government on electoral matters.
The major problems which confront electoral commissions are largely political and managerial. This problem are listed in no particular order below.
1. Lack of Confidence in the Commission
The success or failure of an Electoral Commission depends, to a large extent, on the confidence which the people and various parties and stakeholders have in its ability to discharge its duties efficiently and effectively. Where the body is seen by the opposition as an appendage or surrogate of the ruling government, then its activities are likely to be viewed with suspicion. If the commission is however, seen as an impartial arbiter, the parties will likely have confidence in it.
Because the members are usually appointed by the government of the day and in view of the inability of some elected officials to rise above partisan considerations, the activities of the Electoral Commission are often viewed with scepticism especially in developing countries.
Electoral officials are sometimes biased in favour of one party or the other. Despite the rejection of electronic voting by the national assembly and most political parties in Nigeria, the Electoral Commission still insisted on its use for the conduct of the 2007 elections until the government prevailed on it to drop the idea.
3. Use of Violence and Intimidation by Party Officials
The ability of Electoral Commission to discharge their duties is usually impaired by the use of thuggery, arson and other instruments of violence by party officials
4. Lack of Funds
Funds to procure electoral materials, pay polling officials and carry out all the logistics are usually not released in good time. Sometimes the commissions are deliberately starved of funds so that they may compromise their independence.
5. Poor Logistics
Bad administration is another common problem of electoral bodies. Sometimes, the basic equipment and facilities are not available or are grossly inadequate where they are available. The commission has also been unable to overcome its historical lack of capacity to distribute election materials to Polling units and commence elections on schedule.
6. Lack of Independence
The electoral commissions, especially in developing countries, generally lack independence. This should not be a surprise since the members of the commission are usually government appointees. Many times, the members of the commission are known to have party affiliation. But more worrisome, especially in African country is the predilection of the electoral commission to do the bidding of the ruling party or the government in power.
7. Problem of Controlling Undemocratic Political Parties
Electoral commissions deal with political parties which are largely undemocratic in their mode of operation and particularly in the nomination of candidates for general elections. Party primaries are usually manipulated by political leaders in order to impose their preferred candidates on the mass. Consequently, the commission is bogged down by numerous lititations.