Thursday January 27, 2022

ECP discusses doability of the impossible

Sources say the ECP is working on the doability of the EVM system and trying to figure out how to get it going

November 29, 2021
An Electronic Voting Machine is on display at the Parliament House. File photo
An Electronic Voting Machine is on display at the Parliament House. File photo

ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan has constituted three high-level committees to assess the doability of the electronic voting system in the next general election but it seems extremely difficult, if not impossible.

Sources in the Election Commission of Pakistan told The News that the commission is trying but it may not be possible to switch over to electronic voting system in such a hurry. "It took years for other countries to even start but we are expected to do it completely in a couple of years,” a senior ECP source said.

These sources said that the commission is working on the doability of the EVM system and trying to figure out how to get it going. At least, three high- level committees in the ECP are presently deliberating on different aspects of possible implementation of the electronic voting system.

On EVM, there is a main committee headed by the secretary Election Commission. This committee is deliberating on the entire electoral process in the light of changes required for the new electronic voting system. This committee has a detailed term of reference under which it has to study different formats as are implemented in different countries.

The main committee will also discuss the issue of most suitable systems that could be adopted for Pakistan besides deliberating on matters like procurement, safety and storage of the machines.

A committee under additional secretary ECP has been constituted to discuss the financial aspects of the new system of voting. This committee will tell how much the new system will cost the public kitty.

Another committee under the DG Law of the ECP is set up to assess the present laws and suggest the changes required in the Constitution, law and rules to switch over to the electronic voting system.

The ECP sources said that they are presently working on all possible aspects to make it doable but they fear it is not possible within the time-frame the present PTI government wants to see it implemented. It takes years even to get to a start but here we want to do it completely in less than two years time.

These sources said that the Election Commission had run a pilot project in a by-election in 2016-17 to test the electronic voting system and had submitted its report to the parliament, which unfortunately never discussed it. And now, these sources said, all of a sudden we are expected to implement the electronic voting system all over Pakistan in the next general elections.

The PTI government is pressing the ECP to not only conduct the next general elections through EVMs (electronic voting machines) but it also insists on i-voting for overseas Pakistan despite ECP’s reservations.

In case of the i-voting, even a Spanish audit firm Minsait had told the government in its report: “As a result of the in-depth analysis of the existing i-voting solution, the audit team agrees that the system, at the state that has been shared with Minsait, does not fulfill the constitutional requirements of vote secrecy, and neither the voters nor the ECP would have any guarantee that the results obtained from the system represent the choices made by the voter.”

In its 231-page report, submitted to the government several months back, the audit firm “strongly recommended” that the existing system be upgraded prior to being used in any election.

It warned that the technologies included by Nadra are outdated and vulnerable and could be exploited by attackers. I-voting would remain a risky affair even if the present system is improved, the report says, arguing that the resulting system would probably be more resilient than the current one but would still fail to give all the guarantees that voters and candidates deserve.

The report’s main concern is how to protect i-voting from external and internal attacks – for example by hackers or system administrators. The system must ensure that the vote is secretly cast against any third party, including system administrators and potential hackers, breaking the conventional security measures protecting the voting platform.