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. Reach him at [email protected]