ISLAMABAD: Finally, a dream-come-true moment for the overseas Pakistanis aspiring to cast their votes: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) will start registering their votes from Saturday and continue it until September 15, a senior ECP official said.
However, this facility would be limited to those expatriates whose votes fall within the 37 constituencies where by-elections are to be held in October. If the pilot project is successful, expatriates would be allowed to cast their votes in the next general election, ECP Secretary Babar Fateh Yaqoob said.
The decision is to be advertised in the mass media and through the country’s diplomatic missions. The pilot project would ascertain the efficacy, secrecy, security and financial feasibility of Internet voting through the upcoming by-elections.
The Supreme Court on August 17 allowed expatriate Pakistanis to exercise their right to vote and issued a detailed ruling in this regard on Tuesday. The procedure, from registration to vote-casting and counting, as well as the criteria for rejecting votes, has also been explained, in light of the recommendations submitted by the ECP and National Database and Registration Authority.
A valid National Identity Card for Overseas Pakistanis (NICOP), valid Machine Readable Passport (MRP) and valid e-mail address of an applicant would be required to registered their vote. Applicants would furnish details through the Overseas Voting System on the ECP website to create an account and enter personal details, including: Name, e-mail address, a self-generated password, mobile phone number (optional) and country of stay.
The ECP system would forward the confirmation of an applicant’s account to the given email address, requiring the MRP number and tracking identity, as well as the NICOP number and issuance date. A verification process would follow wherein random questions regarding the applicant's identity would be asked. A confirmation message would be generated upon successful verification. In the event that an applicant is already registered to vote in Pakistan, their name would be deleted from the electoral rolls.
On polling day, registered overseas Pakistanis would be able to cast their vote during Pakistan Standard Time hours prescribed by the ECP, regardless of their country of residence and the associated time differential. In order to cast their ballot in the applicable national and provincial constituencies, the voter would log into the Overseas Voting System using their unique username and password. The voter would select their desired candidate and upon successful completion would receive an onscreen confirmation message.
As expatriate votes would be cast through the ECP website, the Commission would generate a Form-45 containing the number of overseas ballots in each constituency and send them to the designated returning officer for inclusion in the consolidated results. The ECP would be authorised to exclude votes cast through the Internet where it deems that the technical efficacy, secrecy and security of the process has not been maintained.
Upon the completion of the October by-elections, the ECP would submit a report on the pilot project to the Parliament, as is mandatory under the Election Act 2017. Article 103(1) of this act reads: “The Commission may conduct pilot projects for voting by Overseas Pakistanis in by-elections to ascertain the technical efficacy, secrecy, security and financial feasibility of such voting and shall share the results with the Government, which shall, within fifteen days from the commencement of a session of a House after the receipt of the report, lay the same before both Houses of Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament).”
The term “pilot project” in the above article was initially interpreted as being applicable to mock voting in a electoral rehearsal. The Supreme Court re-interpreted it to mean a small-scale voting process such as by-elections. There is also a safety clause in article 84-C (2) the Election Act 2017, which empowers the ECP to exclude expatriate votes from the final tally where technical efficacy, secrecy and security of voting has not been maintained.