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Nigeria Tests Ballot-Reading Machines

All Progressives Congress party supporters gather to welcome presidential candidate Muhammadu Buhari in Kano, January 20, 2015. As Nigeria approaches its most divisive and closely fought election since the end of military rule in 1999, its leaders are having to reassure voters that Africa's most populous nation will remain in one piece.

Amid growing concerns about potential fraud in Nigerian's critical presidential election later this month, election officials said Saturday they would be testing electronic card reading machines.

The March 28 vote is a rematch between the now-incumbent Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the southern Niger Delta, and Muhammadu Burahi, a Muslim and former military officer who led the country briefly during a period of military rule in the 1980s.

Opponents have threatened to boycott the election if the Independent National Election Commission continues with its plan to use the voting machines during the poll.

Critics of the voting machines contend they are prone to malfunction, which they say will disenfranchise millions of voters and undermine the election's credibility.

Nick Dazang, deputy director for public affairs for the Independent National Electoral Commission, however, said the pre-vote testing would "ensure transparency to win the confidence of prospective voters."

“"The idea is to now further test the card reader and to invite stakeholders to see for themselves how these card reader works and also to generate confidence," he said.

“People will have access to it and confidence in the system will be generated and at the end of the day people will accept the card reader as something is not threatening or a boogieman, but something that will facilitate voting and add value to the electoral process on voting day,” he said.

Political parties and other stakeholders have been invited to monitor the testing of the machines on Saturday, he said. This, he said will enable the parties to express any concerns they have for INEC to address them ahead of the election.

“[They should] come and witness for themselves and see that clearly that this card reader does not marginalize of disenfranchise anyone from the process,” said Dazang. “Rather what it does is to authenticate whoever presents himself at the polling unit and then after authenticating the voter it verifies him and facilitates his proceedings to cast his vote that is what it does.”

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