Should Pakistan Deploy Electronic Voting Machines by 2023 or Sooner?

Mr. Ronan McDermott, a specialist in information technology and elections management, has fifteen years of experience in freelance assistance to governments and international bodies like UNDP, IFES and the EU. Recently, he voiced his concerns regarding Pakistan and its utilization of e-voting machines in the near future.

According to Mr. McDermott, Pakistan should not make a complete switchover to electronic voting before 2023.

Mr. McDermott was speaking on ‘Use of Technology in Elections’, organised by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The topic focused on the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) and biometrics.

The session was attended by members of the parliamentary committee on electoral reforms. Ronan McDermott presented a global view of the advantages and disadvantages of main electoral technologies. He also shared his experiences on their adoption in some countries.

He said “My experience in election management in Pakistan and other countries leads me to recommend that Pakistan pilot a variety of EVMs over 2017 and in some 2018 general elections polling stations to determine which technology is most appropriate.”

McDermott is of the view that ECP should gradually scale up the use of EVMs, with a target date of the complete rollout of electronic voting not before 2023 and that it should depend upon ‘stakeholder acceptance’.

When talking about the results technology, he said that result management system should be backed by a solid legal framework and should be used in every by-election prior to 2018 and that “transparent result management contributed to the ECP’s credibility, since trust is more important than technology itself.”

Justice Sardar Muhammad Raza Chief Election Commissioner (CEC), mentioned how the ECP, in joint consultation with the parliamentary committee on electoral reforms, has started a range of pilot initiatives such as mobile results transmission, biometric voter identification and geographic information enabled polling scheme.

Justice Raza stated “Before committing to a large technology purchase, the ECP would carefully review its appropriateness to the context of Pakistan, and would also test it extensively in the field.”

An Analysis on the Recommendation

However, in reality, none of the so-called initiatives have been properly utilised in either the general elections or by-elections. Other than that, ECP has a history of being incapable of understanding the needs of the voters and the Pakistani electoral system. Despite digitising most of the voter data, ECP has failed to verify the voter bases and could not even manage voter lists, something which lies in its work domain. Of course, there is the problem of legal backing as well, with appeals against rigging taking years to judge and analyse the claim’s authenticity.

Considering the current electoral process, the provision of electronic voting system would be an improvement, something obviously not known to international experts due to lack of required data and evidence from the ECP. If Pakistan is to overcome the current rigging problems completely, they should switch-over to the latest electronic voting system with proper validation techniques (equivalent to a digital paper trail) and come to par with other developing countries. This would also help the ECP in resolving any problems, since the same problems would appear in other countries utilising the same system as well. Other than that, NADRA needs to step up and improve its standards as 136,000 CNICs have been recently blocked because of wrong information. Over 15,000 duplicate CNICs, 9000 with wrong credentials and 72,000 CNICs issued to foreign nationals are also being investigated at the moment.

If Pakistan is to rid itself of electoral rigging, NADRA and ECP will have to play a crucial role in the transformation. What do you think on the matter? Is electronic voting like western countries immediately necessary? Or is Pakistan better off following a trickle-down plan of utilizing e-voting machines till 2023?

Let us know in the comments section below.

He is the Editor at ProPakistani.


  • Fardad Ali Shah

    There is no problem at all with using EVMs. They are as safe as our ATM machines.. If there was problem with electronic machines it would be with ATMs because money is the most sensitive of matters. EVMs will save billions in paper and stationary wastage beside giving a clean mind set and system with minimal staff requirement etc. In 2016, EVM is the way to go and needs to be implemented immediately and completely in one go, without any further delay.

  • Muneeb Raja

    As a student and what I know about this matter..

    EVM is no like that you install them today and tomorrow they will start working. There are several options there which can be adopted. The question is which one is better?

    There is no good answer. There are trade-offs between several factors i.e.
    1. If these machines are imported then what is the guarantee that it is doing what it should do? (the software is not stealing info or providing back-door to someone).
    2. Local machines solution is the best but it will take time to develop, test and deploy properly.
    3. The technology must be easy to use for all people in Pakistan. Illerate (~50% of population), old, disabled, etc. people should be able to use it without any help to ensure transperancy.

    There are several other factors. In short, this shoud be thought and implemented properly otherwise we will hear PTI, PML, PPP and others ke ‘dhandli ho gae’. (Mismanagement is also a type of dhandli).

    • Faisal

      You want say Pakistan is only genius and caring that’s why they are considering all above factors besides this, India, America or all other countries with EVM are stupid. They are itna stupid keh they never said “dhandli ho gai”.

    • Aadil

      These aren’t trade offs BTW.
      Proper interactive EVM would be easy to use and won’t even require any assistance like a sound telling a person to touch the logo they want to vote. That should be easier than stamping.
      If the machines are bought from an authentic manufacturer responsible for evms in other countries, it’s sure to without any backdoors or similar problems.

      • Muneeb Raja

        ‘Proper’ is the word I used. Thank you. You acknowledged that.

        I am in acdemia and I don’t want to argue. But you can never approve a software by seeing the name of the company.
        Do you know wikileaks documents about one of the cellular operator of Pakistan? Probably Telenor. NSA had the access to their network activity. HOW? The people here at Pakistan have no idea what is running inside their equipment.
        Local Solution is the best. It will take time but that will be the best.

        • Aadil

          I am not disagreeing except for you calling them trade-offs.
          Current tech in EVMs fulfils the criteria of proper and of course the software can be customised depending on the order.

          Yes I heard, probably NSA. In the article, its clear that if they are going to get the machines, they should be the latest ones and the latest ones arent that easy to crack. Paper trails is a technique where each entry into the machine gives out a printed output as well. So anything done to mess with the results can be verified later on. Then there’s encryption, its not breakable and if all voter-machine transactions are encrypted, there’s no way a middleman attack would be possible.
          All of these features are available in the latest tech being used. So backdoors and accessing those backdoors wont be easy.
          Actually Local solution wont be the best. The trust factor does not exist. Who is going to make sure that each of the machines have been QAed (Even if they use encryption, who will make sure that its fully working?). Of course, international companies have a lot at stake. One scandal could mean they lose all their customers (countries using EVMs). And the local stakeholders would obviously want to develop machines with backdoors. There’s personal gain at stake so local manufacturing should not even be on the cards. Internal threat is far greater compared to external threat when it comes to elections in Pakistan.

          • Muneeb Raja

            well you must be sorry [just kidding :) ]

            We are coming closer to be on the same page. Just to mention NSA had a backdoor to RSA encryption (the most secure E2E encryption algo) back some time.
            I will get back to you some time later on this.. (after reading some stuff about it)

            • Aadil

              Ok.
              Actually end-to-end encryption coupled with any high bit-rate encryption method is uncrackable. Its just that consumers aren’t often offered end-to-end encryption and the security keys are shared with the server. For example Telegram uses end-to-end encryption and the NSA and government authorities are crying over it because they cant do anything about it. Same goes for Signal Mobile Messenger which has been approved by Edward Snowden. If NSA has anything he would have known for sure. Besides NSA’s operations dont include rigging elections. This is a job for our politicians.

        • Aadil

          Sorry for the loooong reply.

    • Fardad Ali Shah

      Yes , EVM is just like that, Simple and easy.. You install them and start using, just like ATMs. The easiest to manage, safest and trouble free solution to voting process is the EVM machine. Simple, but if you argue about ifs and buts, even drinking a cup of tea becomes complicated- what if you spill the tea? what if the cup falls of your hand? what if the tea is hot and you burn your tongue?etc etc.

      • Muneeb Raja

        My friend, I want to see EVMs in Pakistan being adopted the next morning I wake up.
        And about the cup of tea; at what age you were able to grab it without spilling it? 4,5 or around may be? You must have tried dozens of times to be able to do that.
        We must discuss about all possibilities, goals, challenges, etc. to ensure we are going in correct direction. And we are not heading to same larai of dhandli which is happening after 65+ years in our country. After adopting voter lists, Computerized NICs and all bla bla; we still hear dhandli from ALL PARTIES.

        • Fardad Ali Shah

          Even after all the bla bla,and associated nuisance, we are having rigging, so all the more reason that we must introduce EVMs which are best insurance against rigging (ATMs are a proof). Regarding the cup of tea business you sure are holding it at 65+ years of age and not 4 or 5 years. If still you cannot hold the cup steady then when will you? Please do not take it personal, it is just a discussion on an issue.-cheers

  • Inam

    The whole premise is WRONG!

    Pakistan should once and for all abandon this stupid vote-based democratic system where 1 Chohdary Sahab is considered equal to a Political Scientist Expert or an Educationist or a PhD!

  • Eli Ehsan

    Like Mr. McDermot said “Trust is important than Technology”………………

    • Muhammed Ovais Alam

      Opposite in Pakistan

  • Muhammed Ovais Alam

    PPP and PMLN will never vote for EVM.
    Jeettay hi dhaandli aur jahalat ki waja se ye log.