Is Electoral College Option a better Choice for Nigeria? – Itsede Okhai

Since Nigeria adopted democratic system of government, Nigerians have witnessed untold agonies resulting from the systemic failures inherent in the style of the electoral system adopted for Presidential elections. Nigeria is said to have modelled her democratic principles after that of the United States of America(USA). Most unfortunately, Nigeria, by her laws, would rather choose an electoral system not favourable to her size and democratic ideals than adopting a tested system of her modelled country-USA.

Unlike Nigeria, voters in the United States do not directly elect their President; they do so through the electoral college system.

How does the system work for the USA?

Each State in the US is assigned a particular number of electoral college votes. The electoral college votes per state is determined by the total number of Senators and members of House of Representatives from each State. Ohio for instance is represented by 16 Congressmen (House of Rep Members) and 2 Senators. Its share of electoral votes is therefore 18. On the other hand, Delaware has 2 Senators and one Congressman, giving it a total of 3 electoral college votes. The District of Columbia is not a State and therefore has no Senatorial or House of Rep seat, but it assigned 3 electoral college votes. Since each states is represented by 2 Senators (US has 50 States) and there are a total of 435 members of House of Reps plus 3 electoral college votes from the District of Columbia, it means the country has a total of 538 electoral college votes. Therefore, for a candidate on each of the two major parties platform to win the presidency, he/she must have recorded a minimum of 270 electoral votes; more than half of the total available.

To secure electoral college votes, most States in the US operates on a winner-takes-all basis. Thus, any candidate that wins the total popular vote count per a state wins the whole of the electoral votes for that state. For instance, if candidate A beats candidate B in California even by one popular vote, he wins the whole of the 55 electoral college votes for the State of California. In essence, all the votes cast for candidate B in that State (even if in millions) becomes inconsequential.

However, 2 States, Maine and Nebraska award their electoral votes on the basis of performance in each electoral district. So there is a possibility of both States splitting their electoral votes, depending on the candidates’ performance in the popular votes cast per district. So, it is a case of who first gets to the magic number of 270 first.

How does the system look like if adopted for Nigeria? Our nation has 109 Senate seats and 360 seats for the House of Representatives. These translate to 469 electoral college votes in the US fashion. Under this arrangment, Kogi State with 3 Senators and 9 members of House of Reps will have 12 electoral college votes. Kano with 3 Senators and 24 members of the House will have 27 electoral college votes. But the misty quirk here is that we operate multi-party system making it difficult for us to consider a magic winning number as we have in the US. But that can be taken care of if a provision for a run-off is provided for the two candiates with the highest electoral votes count.

This system will eliminate, to a great extent, all possibilities of rigging. Nigerians will get to know the winner of an election before the end of the election and all technical manipulations by the umpires will be buried.

But again, to make this work and fair, there must be equal representation across States. This goes back to the need to overhaul the Nigerian Constitution.

Should we consider this system, given the Nigerian inherent problems with other electotal systems?

Itsede Okhai is a Lagos-based Constitutional Lawyer.

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