Idea of SMS Based Electoral System (A Proposal)

This is a guest post by Jabran Rafique, who is student of MSC Web Development at Staffordshire University, UK and one of the top mapping contributors and Pakistan’s ambassador at Google Map Maker.

Information technology has played a vital role throughout the world and so in our country. Pakistan is proud to have the world’s largest biometric database (NADRA) of its citizens.

It is secure, reliable, centrally organized, well managed and advances with the passage of time resulting in emergence of products like Machine Readable Passports (MRP), Birth/Death Certificates and Vehicles Identification & Monitoring System (VIMS) etc from a single source based on Computerized National Identity Card (CNIC).

Let’s remind ourselves the Spiderman’s dialogue, that great power comes with great responsibilities; so should I say that it also comes with vast field of opportunities! In this case, opportunities like centralizing the personalized data for each citizen in such manners that they can benefit it when and where they need.

An imperative use of centralized data is the registration of Mobile SIM card with CNIC using an activation service by NADRA and then using the facility to keep track that you only have certain registered SIM card(s). It’s one great achievement and there is not any example in the world of making a use of such kind of methodology in this manners.

Importantly, number of people who own or even use Mobile Phones in Pakistan is indeed very high. This brings our information technology to a level where we can go further to make the best use of it – thanks to its ability of being mobile and remote.

The idea is to combine the usage of most popular gadget with NADRA to bring them to best interests of public. The idea is to use the power of vote through SMS. It may seem not a very serious or very quickly implementable option but it could be indeed a seriously time saving, secure, fast, corruption-less and most cost cutting national campaigning idea ever.

Since our electoral authorities had never been very successful in defining a model which could work best with any illegal human interference, this working model is quite simple as compared to what we use today.

Working Model

An electoral registered citizen cast their vote through SMS to a short number along with their CNIC. It is received by Election Commission of Pakistan and the data is confirmed with in NADRA database and after verification, vote is saved for that CNIC. A confirmation SMS is sent back to sender.

By defining a limit and check over increase of rate of posted votes per mobile SIM card sets the vote spam risk at lower level. Since each individual has an exclusively issued CNIC and restricted to one vote while instead of spending billions on setting up polling stations and security concerns for days, use only few millions or maybe even less to give public this facility as free of charge short number for vote.

Implementation of this idea could take ages or even may never be considered at all but if it is taken to some extents then it will bring our IT based governance to another level of achievements and it works more efficiently than current corrupted structure.

  • “Pakistan is proud to have the world’s largest biometric database (NADRA)” This is the stupidest article I have ever read. A country struggling with a serious power shortage (electricity shortage), corruption, poverty and terrorism, among other things! Vote by sms! So that thieves can steal more cellular phones and vote for their favorite candidate, using your SIM, before its blocked! This Rafique dude seriously needs to get his head out of the clouds and visit Pakistan!

    • Yes i m agree with you

      it will become too dangerous if someone hack the security system and vote someone to whom he likes.

      i appreciate jabran rafique for all of this struggle but his struggle really does not work in Pakistan.

    • Smarta**es like you need to either suggest an alternative or rationally object to an opinion. How many phones can one possibly steal? did you even think about this before writing that? 10, 100, 1000…there are 170,000,000 million Pakistanis. What if few cellphones gets stolen?

      His system will actually ensure that people can vote safely from their homes without having to worry about bombs going off at the polling stations. Or crooked electoral staff switching paper votes – which does happen in Pakistan!

      His proposed system will ensure safe, efficient, and quick electoral system. For added security, the election commission can setup a confirmation system which sends and SMS “several hours after” the user voted with a PIN and chosen candidate. The user has to reply with that PIN to confirm the vote. This will further ensure that in case the phone was stolen, it would give the owner sufficient time to report it to the teleco, and stopping further activity on the SIM…making the option of voting via stolen phone impossible.

      • Jon, by the way do you know the number of mobile phone snatches in 2009 in Pakistan? It is around 82,000 and if these snatchers know that these mobile are worth more then just multiple this number by 2 if not more. And lets assume that only 1% (around 1000-2000) of these ppl try to resist and got killed then its fine …right? we have 170 millions ppl. in Pakistan …. and any why who care about the life in Pakistan

        • Can you explain one valid reason or link between this idea and mobile snatching activities? Or at least you can explain that how this idea is going to increase the value of a mobile phone in very first place? I just can’t think beyond these logics with no logics in it..

        • WTF? again look at the facts!! 82,000 thefts were in the “Entire Year”. You really think, they’ll be able to steal that many cellphones on the election day = 24hours?

          Besides if you read my post, I already said that the solution to theft is for the election comission to send a confirmation SMS – that requires a response from the voter, several hours after the initial vote. That will ensure that in case the phone was stolen it would give the owner enough to report it to his/her telco and disable the SIM so that the vote can’t be confirmed and hence not counted.

          Btw, Boooo for your lame attempt at converting this discussion into a “nobody cares about Pakitani life” argument.

          • Good way to start a reply with WTabc :-)
            Anyway, if you read my initial reply to this post then you will find out that I am not against the idea of voting via SMS, my only point was that it is not for country like Pakistan (at least not for next 20 years) because of corruption in every part of our life. By the way, Estonia is already going to use SMS for voting in 2011, so idea is not new. I am only saying that it is not going to work in Pakistan in current situation.

            You do not have to snatch a mobile, I know many Franchises where their worker can steal thousands of SIMs in just one day. and we have thousands of Franchises in Pakistan

            I remember once there was a poll in Geneva Canton, Switzerland about the same thing and result was that voting should not be done via SMS because most ppl think that
            1- it is a social activity and should be done by physically going to polling stations
            2- It will not be transparent because there will be record about who voted for whom which can be used against them

            In Pakistan we are already limiting our social activities so most of you will not care about it but part (2) will be a serious issue in Pakistan where our dear politicians can use this record against us :-(

            Anyway, to cut the story short, I am not against the idea but its not good for Pakistan. IF we only want to do it due to security reasons then we should also say our jumma and EID prayers at home , Molana sahid can set up a conference call and we all can connect to it ….right?

          • WT* was very appropriate response to your post…because people like love to object over stuff without rationally justifiying it. Like in your second response…you equated it to juma & EID prayers…again WTF?

            Juma is a religious obligiation a big part of which is for everyone from every corner of life to get together at one place and pray. Voting is a civil obligation, people are tired as-is of our political environment and if you add the risk of bomb explosions even fewer are gonna vote. Did you know what was the voter turn-out during the 2008 election?….it was less than 45%

            Looking at the record in pakistan where thugs basically control the polling station…SMS voting will be a lot more transparent. so I don’t really care about Geneva conferences. We have to look at our local environment and implement solutions that benefit us as a nation.

        • shahzad, your arguments are hopeless… its ppl like you who never appreciate good ideas and allow a positive change to take place.. pls grow out of your shell, and take some deep breaths of fresh air !

  • ^^^
    Ohh Man, an stupid indian jumped here to, :s, buddy you need to concentrate on your own country first it is suffering heavily with hinduism.

    Problems need to be fought and vote through SMS is a good idea anyway and the thing you said about stealing the sim it is same as someone forcing you to vote for some candidate in a polling station, vote through sim is however a secure idea because people can vote while at home so no one steal and in Pak people are careful enough to get this.

  • ahahhahah, well said edward, but do you know the other facts:

    there are milions of cell phones but NIC is unique for everyone.

    only post paid cusotmers can avail this sms vote service. to ensure they are verified customers

    the turn out in pakistan election is not more than 20%, rest of te 80% people can eventually beocme part of voting with sms.

    and the last but not theleats, jabran is loking at the filled side of glass and we are looking into the empty part of the glass.

    nations become nation when mindsets get mature and positive.

    china was the worst part of the world in 80s till 90s. now china come up with a nation who can do any thing with innovation.

    lets appreciate him and move next to see how loadshading, gas and water issues can be recolved which has nothing to dowith sms voting: cheers

  • do you know that the 2D bar code printed on the NIC cards can be read……….

    I think it is a good thing for security purposes.Please contact me on my email.

  • Edward, if you are the one with real identity then you just crack me up mate! :) Because I’m going to ask you to read post again to understand it. It says to make a base on CNIC and not mobile phone/SIM. For rest, I would say that you are talking politics and we are writing about IT!

  • Any idea at the start look stupidity but when it gets mature it becomes need.

    Jabran its seems good idea may be I can cast my vote by this mean 

  • That is a great idea to promote the IT in Pakistan. Jibran the Pakistani only think about there country to develop as they need it, other only feel jealousy when they see others improvement.

    I appreciate your Idea of voting. ALLAH will help Muslims of Pakistan, Inshallah.

  • Nice idea it can be implemented in pakistan but required to more purify it.

    Once again great Idea Jabran Bhai.

  • well done mate……..keep it up n i realy appreciate ur amazing and outstanding way of thinking and contribution in the prosparity of our beloved homeland…….and dont care about the moaner people like EDWARD.

  • This system will be great because rate of casting vote in Pakistan is low as compared to other countries.This will increase participation of Pakistanis in Pakistan Politics.

  • Good Idea.
    My final year project is on this topic..
    Its very help full 4 countries like pakistan with low polling turn out.

  • This is a good idea but i would suggest some improvements.
    1- Each vote should be associated with the thumb impression as well throgh the ATM mechines or internet.So that stealing of a mobile and misuuse would not be possible. Now thumb impression mms can also be used for this purpose.
    2-The polling stations should be as normal and every vote sould be computrized rather by sms.
    3-OR Every body should be alloted by a special passward for voting and that password plus cnic should be used for vote casting.

  • 1-Thumb impression or a special password should also be associated with the cnic for security check.
    2-This should a combination of multiple sms s , name , fathers name mothers name, the candiate to whome you wish to cast the vote. etc.
    3-spcial IT centres should be established for the public to cast the vote so that those people can also cast the votes who dont have IT facility .
    4-Before that Election commssion should update computrized voter lists with mobile numbers each family should be allowed to use upto one number only.say 10 votes for one mobile number etc
    5-mms may be used for thmub impression or special center should be established for that.
    6-This would give facility to those people who are on duty at the day of election
    7-Intially both the manual and the sms/computrized system can simultanesuly be use which can at further stage shifted to only computrized and sms based.

  • dear sir,

    it not possible, no security. ! kindly be positive.. :d pgysical vote system is till in USA. then how we can use sms here :D



    • Comparing is good thing and this is how one progresses! USA doesn’t have a biometric database but we do and that’s what we are looking to take advantage of. A case study example is UK electoral department who has a strong hold over registered personnels’ addresses and sensitive data (names & date of birth) and they base on this to let people vote by general post! Cheers

  • Old Idea But There Is some problem

    first many people have nic cards of other provinces but they are living in other province from many years and their name is listed in the voters list

    Now Agar kese maksos set ke leye example NA56 ka election hai lahore ki set ke leye

    you need to confirm ke Nadra ke pass os area ke voters ki updated details ho and nic numbers ke dala Admi ka Nem is Area ke voters list mai hai

    Aur yahan hamesha bohat log larty howe nazar ate hai election ke din ke hamare names voter list mai nai

    and if you go to zong website and search booked numbers you’ll find easily more than 10000+ nic numbers

    and in many cases security question of nadra is

    Tell the city where you born

    Its moderately easy to fooled nadra system
    agar mind use kia jai to

  • Although a good idea but not for countries like Pakistan …. ( and I ampakistani :-) ) Youcan not just close your eyes and think that every thing is fair there …. we know how ppl buy votes…. millions of CNIC are available openly …. if implemented then
    – it will be easy for candidates to go to their villagers and buy their CNIC
    – business of stelling CNIC will grow :-)
    – they can bribe the mobile operators to have dumy votes and once these guys willbe in GOV then they will lift taxes from these operators
    – just yesterday we have seen that a gov web site isbeing used (either hacked or misused by their web admin) to get the user names and password. So manipulating results f SMS based votes will be a piece of cake :-)
    – many more …..

    I agree that this should be worked out but in current conditions it does not look that it will work.

  • The idea is not bad. But keeping in view how physical voting is exploited, I don’t think it’s viable in our country. This will lead to many frauds, and false voting.

  • Asalam U Aliakum
    Great Post Buddy
    I am also thinking about it
    and it is the best source for voting for our Country where votes are sold just for Rupees 500
    I solute you my friend
    keepit up
    your brother
    Jawad Zubair Shaikh

  • I appreciate all comments and concerns. Thanks a lot for your feedbacks. One thing I would like to clear is that the basic idea is to take advantage of a base we have and that is not mobile phone but its biometric database. Mobile phones have been pointed in post just as a medium to deliver the choice since the user percentage is very high and nevertheless almost 90% of mobile phone users acknowledge the basics of writing a SMS. So while mobile phones are not being a base for this idea, anyone can use any mobile to vote but as there had been a certain limit considered per mobile/SIM to avoid spam. And few lines to provide an idea doesn’t provide a complete feasibility study for a project where all these concerns are subject to some solutions. However, there will be some follow up soon regarding this post. Thanks all again.

  • Jabran, I think its an excellent idea…see my response to Edward. Also, I think government can use SMS to get feedback from citizens on other issues as well.

  • Salaam! If it can impliment then this idea is very good, but it not accepted by urban population because they can not accept this but it is very good. U can vote from any location in pakistan where area covered by mobile signals, u know in 2008 votes i live in Lhr and i think i m not going home with 350rupees bus fair and waste lot of time and money for cast vote, so i not cast vote in Feb 2008’s vote

    i hope this idea may be accept by Federal Government

  • I appreciate the idea. Problem is that we need to take some serious steps to implement this idea. I really appreciate this idea.
    MCB Mobile Banking is running in Pakistan and is declared best Mobile Banking in the world. How much crime is increased or how many times system is hacked??????
    Bro appreciate the thing which is good for us. Look about what is the possibility for breaking down of system and suggest them to include more security in your system. Kindly appreciate good things rather than pushing them to walls.

  • The idea presented by the author is great, but the idea won’t work due to some restrictions.

    1) Everyone should possess a SIM registered on his/her name and a cell phone as well.
    2) What if a person may have more than one SIM registered on his/her name?
    3) The legitimacy of the vote can be challenged.
    4) Mobile companies can easily rig the votings.

    An ideal electoral system may be implemented by government web sites, where a person can cast his vote alongwith his
    CNIC number.

  • @Jon Mushtaak:
    yes I know the turnout in 2008 Election was around 45% but do you know the turnout in other years ?
    1988: 43%
    1990: 45%
    1993: 41%
    1997: 36%
    2002: 42%
    So I do not see any link b/w turnout and security issues here.
    For Jumma/EID prayers security issue is much more as GOV do not provide any protection but for voting they do provide rangers/police. do you have numbers how many ppl were killed during 2008 election day and how many are killed due to attacks on mosques? Just search a bit and you will find out that security issue for jumma/Eid prayer is of more concern then for voting. So if you are so much concerned about the security on voting day then I am sure one day you will propose to offer prayers via phone conferences :-)

  • Okay, this system has too many technical flaws:

    1-Everyperson above 18 need to possess a cell phone, seem ok with urban citizens where 80% has them, but what about rural area citizens?

    2- Voter lists need to be maintained in a centralized location

    3-Authentication issue, multiple votes can be casted with same mobile, or same CNIC with multiple cell phones

    4-MOST IMP:all cellular companies would need to make sure that there SMS system dont crash down due to excessive traffic, mind it it does happen on occasions like EID etc, so the traffic on election with be multiple times more than that and i dont think currently cellular infrastructure can support it without any possiblity of system crash down.

    5- With the proposed option of confirmation to sender, two way traffic on SMS will be increased as well, increasing the probably of choking and crash downs

    5-WORST CASE SCENARIO-if one and only one cellular company’s network goes down, whole voting campaign can fail

    6-From cellular front end to database and to NADRA database, any technical failure on the day of election can have serious reprecussions

    I dont think this system is practical at all, ESPECIALLY in Pakistan. Only technical flaws are highlighted but we cannot ignore the fact that such system can never be adopted at government level which provides a clear transparent voting at any level due to corruption at every level.

    • 1 – multiple channels should be made available to public, SMS being one. those who dont have mobile phones can go to polling stations. but obviously limited operations at polling stations cutting down the cost to a great extent.

      2- no a big deal. NADRA already operates a centralized list all across pakistan. you know nothing about technology frankly.

      3 – maintaining uniqueness through NADRA system is much easier then through the traditional electoral lists. as i said, you know nothing about technology :)

      4 – have u ever heard of DR systems ? no ? i knew it :)

      5 – the voting will not take place in 1 hour… an entire day will be kept for it. nothing will happen if you’d have to send one more sms that day in addition to stupid forward message that you send to 200 people on your contact list. just check the figures of sms messages being exchanged everyday by all the users.

      6 – pls tell me when was it the last time when the entire system of a cellular company went down? you are a big mouth-piece :) even if some conspiracy happens and it does go down, you should go and vote thorough alternate channels, polling booths being one of them.

      7 – what if india attacks with nuclear weapons on the day of voting… what if tsunami hits pakistan on that day… what if earth quake happens, and so what if the system crashes :)

  • ok plz stop u all is concerned person from Election comission of pakistan. plz Mr Rafique can you demonstrate us your approach such that we can bring revolutionary change in pakistan.

  • Jibran, two thumbs up for you… this system must be made available to masses as being one of the channels, whereas, traditional way of casting votes can also run side by side.. NADRA’s centralized systems can easily take care of uniqueness across all channels. in this age, whoever says its not possible, is simply naive… to say the least..

    • Assalam-o-Alaikum

      Mr. Jabran
      I saw your post here and was pleased seeing it.
      I am a student of Final Year Telecom Engineering and we are currently working on this idea as our Final Year Project (FYP).
      Our project is going well and hope we will complete it by the start of June 2012 INSHALLAH.
      Can you please mail me because we have 2 or 3 minor issues in this project and I want to discuss it with you. May be you can help us in this.


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