Thursday August 11, 2022

Sorting out EVMs

By Editorial Board
November 30, 2021

After the passage of the bill through parliament voting that EVMs be used for the next general election and by-elections that come before that, the Election Commission of Pakistan has begun work to determine if this is feasible or doable. For this purpose, it has set up three committees, the main committee headed by the secretary of the ECP and the others by senior officials of the organisation. The concern is that it will not be possible to get EVMs working in time for the next general election and that it would be better to delay the introduction of the system so that concerns over the secrecy of the ballot and also hacking or errors in the manufacture of the machines, which is a complicated task according to experts, can be ironed out.

The ECP has so far said that introducing electronic voting by 2023 or when the next general election comes around would be virtually impossible. However, given the PTI’s insistence on putting this system in place, it is now trying to work out what can be done. It should be noted that in 2016-2017, the ECP presented a report to parliament after conducting a by-election on a trial basis using electronic voting, but that report was never discussed or debated within parliament, perhaps indicating the lack of interest of members in this crucial issue. When they work well, EVMs can be extremely effective in ensuring transparent and swift voting. In countries like India, Brazil, Paraguay and other places they have worked well, for the most part, despite some complaints coming in from time to time. However, it should also be noted that the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Ireland and other nations have chosen not to use EVMs after examining them – on the basis that they are not reliable enough. The debate currently ongoing in the US, notably over the use of the dominion voting machines during the recent presidential election, indicated what these concerns are.

Beyond this, the ECP is also concerned about i-voting by Pakistanis based overseas, and believes the technology currently in place is not sufficient to ensure a secure and authentic vote. This view was backed up by an independent Spanish firm hired to look into online voting for Pakistanis based outside the country, which noted that Pakistan had not yet developed a system which was effective enough to ensure unbiased voting with the methods available to Nadra and related organisations. The ECP has till now opposed the swift introduction of electronic voting machines, although over time, many agree that they are perhaps the answer to our problems with polls and frequent accusations of rigging. The question now is for the ECP to give in its findings and for parliament to then determine what the next step should be. The introduction of EVMs would mean that inevitably voting would have to take place in stages, given that we cannot produce enough EVMs to cover all polling stations in the country in one day, and this raises its own concerns about the possible impact of this on voters. The matter is a sensitive one and needs to be worked out with care as it has an impact on the whole election.