PESHAWAR: The Election Commission of Pakistan on Tuesday announced that for the first time in the country’s history, it would use biometric machines on trial basis in the NA-19 Haripur by-elections on Aug 16.

“Biometric machines will be used at 30 polling stations in the Haripur by-elections for the verification of voters,” the ECP said in a statement.

A senior ECP official told Dawn that the use of biometric machines for voter verification was a pilot project meant to check if the option was feasible for future elections.

He said besides biometric machines, the traditional method of verifying voters manually would also be in place at 30 designated polling stations in Haripur constituency.

The official said the ECP couldn’t abandon the manual voter verification method for biometric method as the law didn’t allow it.

He said the National Database Registration Authority, Pakistan Telecommunication Authority and Ufone cellphone company would offer technical assistance for the smooth functioning of biometric machines.

ECP says exercise meant to check option’s feasibility for future elections

The official said voter verification would be done online with the help of Nadra, PTA and Ufone.

“The Ufone services, PTA towers and Nadra database will be used for the verification of voters,” he said.

The official said the presiding officers of all polling stations would separately collect data of voters verified and unverified by biometric machines.

He said the decision on whether or not to use biometric machines in elections would be made in light of voters verified and unverified.

The official said the trial run of biometric machines would identify hurdles to their functioning and after seeing them, the ECP would be in position to decide whether it was feasible for holding elections. According to him, since the whole exercise is to be performed on experimental basis, the impact of the use of biometric machines on by-elections will not disturb the electoral process in the constituency.

“The use of biometric machines will be an additional exercise to the traditional method.”

The official said during the use of biometric machines on trial basis, if biometric machines didn’t verify voters for any reason, then such voters would be allowed to cast vote after verification by traditional method.

In the statement, the ECP said the pilot project was being launched in line with the desire of political parties that a test run of biometrics may be conducted in any bye-election to educate general public about its use in electoral activity by following the ‘principle of evolution’ in a careful manner instead of revolution (sudden change) while introducing new technology in elections.

That desire was conveyed through the Electoral Reforms Committee of Parliament.

“The ECP has already taken all contesting candidates on board and briefed them comprehensively by sharing with them the standard operating procedures using biometrics machines, list of selected 30 polling stations and objectives of the pilot project,” the ECP said.

It said all by-election candidates had welcomed and approved the use of biometrics machines as an experiment.

“They (candidates) have resolved to extend full support to the ECP that includes sensitising their polling agents and educating voters at large about the use of biometrics machines during the bye-elections. The cascading interactive trainings sessions on use of biometrics machines will be completed on August 13, 2015,” it said.

On Dec 28, 2013, the ECP had carried out mock polling through the use of biometric machines at four polling stations of two union councils. However, certain flaws were observed during the exercise.

Published in Dawn, August 12th, 2015

On a mobile phone? Get the Dawn Mobile App: Apple Store | Google Play