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Saturday December 04, 2021

Election Commission rejects EVM

Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan said the government believed that the next general elections should be held using EVMs.

September 08, 2021

ISLAMABAD: Experts cautioned the Senate Standing Committee on Parliamentary Affairs Tuesday that use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) in the next elections would be a premature move and issues of transparency and secrecy being the fundamental voter right would be compromised.

On its part, the Election Commission of Pakistan also submitted its report on the use of EVM to the committee, raising as many as 37 objections. However, it was agreed that gradual and step by step introduction of electronic voting may be helpful in achieving the objective of fairness and transparency.

Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan said the government believed that the next general elections should be held using EVMs. Experts stressed the need for crucial analysis of the machine to prevent lacunae, as the committee met for the second day on the proposed electoral reforms with focus also on use of EVMs. The committee meeting was presided over by its Chairman Senator Taj Haider of PPP.

The committee sought views of experts on two election amendment bills that entailed the use of EVMs in the next general elections and voting rights for overseas Pakistanis. Those who expressed their views were Kanwar Dilshad, ex-secretary of the Election Commission of Pakistan; and Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, President PILDAT.

Representatives from Fafen and Smartmatic Intl. Holding B.V. Pakistan also shared their findings. Kanwar contended that there was a great risk of election fraud with reference to the use of EVMs and said 0.4 million experts would be needed to make use of these machines during the general elections. He also cautionedthat the machine could be tampered with easily.

PML-N’s Azam Nazir maintained that as pilot project, the machine could be tested in major cities, whereas Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar said the government was exerting pressure on the Election Commission for use of EVMs. To this, Federal Minister Azam Swati said the government job was to go for legislation.

Members who attended the meeting included Senator Sania Nishtar, Senator Samina Mumtaz Zehri, Senator Muhammad Azam Khan Swati, Senator Farooq Hamid Naek Senator Syed Ali Zafar, Senator Azam Nazeer Tarar, Senator Afnanullah Khan, Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, Senator Walid Iqbal, Senator Prof. Sajid Mir, and senior officers from the Ministry of Law and Justice along with all concerned.

Robert Dobler, President Smartmatic Intl. Asia Pacific — the company that has manufactured EVM, was of the view that the system was being used in 10 different countries and had to-date been a success.

He stressed the need for trust in the system to ensure success, but added to build trust, machines need to be auditable: Potential for manipulation must be explored. Taking up the issue of overseas Pakistanis and their right to vote, experts recommended postal ballot.

This was because i-voting has its drawbacks that include hacking and tampering of software. Overall issues of integrity are bound to prevail. The committee members were of view that numerous corresponding amendments would be crucial to ensure transparency.

The Election Commission has submitted a detailed report on objections to the EVM to the Senate Standing Committee in which 37 objections have been raised. It pointed out that there was very little time for the countrywide use of EVMs in the next general elections.

According to the report, the EVM will not have proper confidentiality of the ballot paper, while the identity of the voter will not remain anonymous. Moreover, ballot papers will not be kept confidential on the electronic voting machine.

It is interesting to note that the government has already announced to use EVMs in the next general elections, seeing it the only way of blocking the way of poll fraud. The ECP report said the software and hardware of the electronic voting machine could not be seen while the minimum cost of using EVM would be Rs150 billion and despite spending a lot of money, the transparency and credibility of the election would remain doubtful.

The Election Commission says the EVM will be in the custody of whom, nothing was being said while the machine could also be hacked. The ECP report said while the transparency of the black box could be questioned, the ability of the machine to be used everywhere could be questioned, while the electronic voting machine could not prevent fraud.

The ECP says there was no consensus among the stakeholders on EVMs while the media as well as NGOs and civil society could distrust the machines at this stage. According to the Election Commission’s report, it will not be possible to hold elections in one day with more machines and repairing the machines for any reason could lead to rigging while voter education and technology would also be hampered. Raising further objection, the Election Commission said if the ballot was changed by the court order at the right time, it will be difficult at a time and EVM may delay the results.