Mobile Voting Through Missed Calls Can Transform Democracy in Pakistan

By Jawwad Jafri

For over five decades, elections in Pakistan have been marred by violence, malpractice and allegations of fraud. There are inexplicable delays in announcing the results and in many instances, complaints of duplicate and unaccountable votes. The experiments with electronic ink have also resulted in very limited success making the verification of the votes even more dubious.

To top it all, the turnout on the Election Day has never been overwhelming. A large part of our population remains at home on Election Day fearing unrest at the polling stations. A lot of people from rural areas and semi urban areas are out of their constituency to work in larger cities and miss out on the chance to vote for their areas as it is impractical to travel and spend so much money to vote.

But what if we can come up with a way to include every Pakistani — or at least majority of the nation — in the voting process without the need to leave their home?

Is there a way which is equally accessible and understandable to everyone in the country? The answer lies in a common mobile device that we access every day.

In an international environment, it would have been much easier to create an app for people to vote but Pakistan has some unique challenges.

The challenge is to come up with a voting solution that is universal and doable for every Pakistani

Firstly, the low smartphone penetration in Pakistan rules out the use of mobile apps to reach the masses. According to reports, less than 30% of Pakistanis own a smartphone. The market is still extremely dependent on feature phones with nearly 70% of users still accessing the networks through a dumb phone.

Secondly, with a low literacy rate, the ability to send and receive SMS is not universal. Pakistanis send billions of SMS’s every year but the fact is that not all 120 million people can read or write them. A lot of domestic workers are unable to read these SMS messages even if they are in the national language. This makes SMS voting limited to only those who can read and compose SMS messages.

The universal ability that every mobile user has is to dial a number. Regardless of the phone they are carrying or their literacy level, a phone owner knows how to dial a number. So how can we use this ability to carry out a nationwide electoral voting.

Using Missed Calls for National Elections

There are solutions available in the market that work based on missed calls. A missed call is a free and convenient way in which people communicate with each other. What if we can use the same missed call for National Elections?

Just in case if you are thinking that IVR solutions can perform better in this scenario, IVR isn’t simpler than missed calls and considering that we are trying to come up with a solution for masses, the easier the better.

Imagine every candidate having a unique number (for example 0800-33-241) that  voters have to call to cast votes. This number will be promoted on every banner and promotional material that the candidate uses to market themselves in the election.

On the election day, every constituent who wants to vote can just give a missed call to the candidate’s number to vote. This means that the voter does not have to go out of their house to vote. There is no cost to the voter and the whole process takes less than 3 seconds to complete.

The call will be automatically disconnected and the voter would receive a confirmation message that his/her vote has been counted.

In addition, the voting can be carried out in real time. Press, media, public everyone will have access to live changes in the voting patterns. At any instant during the campaign, the position of rival candidates can be viewed by anyone on internet including local and international organizations providing complete transparency of results.

For election commission, every vote would be auditable. The election commission can track for any candidate, when the vote was casted and who casted the vote. Any party challenging the result can be given the access to this data for maintaining complete impartiality and transparency of results.

Here’s a rough Proposed Mechanism

  • Each and every SIM in Pakistan is bio-metrically verified and is associated with an individual
  • More than 60% Pakistanis have at least one SIM registered against their CNICs
  • Making a missed call from any mobile number will register owner’s CNIC as a voter
  • Voter’s CNIC can be cross-checked with NADRA for validity of CNIC (such as if person is even alive or not
  • Voter’s CNIC can also be cross-checked with Election Commission data for validity of vote
  • Any duplication can be removed if an individual makes call from more than one number that are both registered against him/her

By adopting missed calls as voting mechanism, a country like Pakistan can transform the participation of its constituents in the elections and free the individuals from security concerns that hamper their participation. In addition, this would also help in massively bringing down the cost of conducting an election throughout the country as no physical setup would be required.