Do delays in the voting process constitute rigging?

The slow down is not inconsequential.
Published July 25, 2018

Throughout the day today, citizens, journalists and political parties complained about the slow voting process.

The PPP, PML-N, ANP, PTI and the Awami Muslim League, among other parties, requested that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) consider extending the polling time as a result.

Ultimately, the request to extend polling hours by was turned down. Yet, the slow down is not inconsequential. I spoke to our experts to shed some light on the situation.

Adnan Rasool, analyst

As complaints roll in about slow polling from stations across Pakistan, it is important to understand that this is a tactic that is often used in rigging.

It is a technical way of doing this through voter suppression. Most people tend to vote in the afternoon or evening as it is a public holiday and people are slow to come out.

At that point, the polling stations are choked with people leading to long lines. The slower processing then leads to not all people getting to vote or being turned away due to long lines.

The logic here is simple: in areas where a specific party has a heavy voter base, by slowing down the polling process their voters are turned away.

The tactic is completely legal and, combined with the oft-used strategy of delaying the opening of ballot boxes by up to 15 minutes after polls close, is how election day rigging has historically taken place in Pakistan.

In 2002, as well as in earlier elections, when the powers-that-be wished to promote the party of choice, they reverted to this strategy as it cannot be challenged for being illegal.

Other strategies often used include missing election day supplies that delay the start of polls or cause polling stations to shut down for a few minutes until they restock supplies.

In these elections, the evidence suggests the go-slow is in full force.

Ali Arqam, journalist and HRCP's election observer

The problem I witnessed in these areas in Karachi (NA-249, PS-115, NA-251 and PS-118) was that there was only one entry point into the polling stations, thus there were delays.

Secondly, there were multiple polling stations inside the same boundary. So when voters went, they got confused. They might be standing in one polling booth for some time, only to realise later that they were not at the right station.

Third, the ECP's team didn’t put up the polling scheme (how the list of voters will be divided into booths) beforehand. So, when people arrived to vote, the polling stations didn’t indicate their serial numbers and their designated booths.

So in NA 249, from where Shahbaz Sharif and Fesal Vawda (PTI) were running, some six schools had the same complaint. PTI's workers said that the polling started an hour late. On average, at least a 30-minute delay has happened.

Then, the polling process was slow in general. It took minimum five to eight minutes for each person to cast the vote once inside the booth (in 17 polling stations that I went to) whereas, by the rule, one shouldn’t take up more than 2.5 minutes.

For example, in a school in NA-249, only 231 votes had been cast by 3pm. Everyone complained about how slow the polling process was.

Women have a different problem altogether. Most of them are illiterate in these areas and can’t read anything on their own. Whatever direction you tell them to go in, they will follow. If something major happens, they will easily leave.

At one place, the MMA’s candidate complained that police officers told women that their voter registration wasn't here and sent them back home. The officers’ attitude was discouraging women. Though, no other party complained about this.

The MQM camp said that the police checks were humiliating. They complained that it wasted a lot of time. But, I didn't hear this from any other party.

Analysts are arguing that 'go-slow' is a way of disenfranchising. People leave and voter turnout is lowered.

Adnan Rehmat, analyst

You are undermining the very basic exercise of voting. The very basic purpose of this whole exercise is to allow as many people as possible to cast their vote.

Mobilising voters is another thing, and we are not even talking about fundamental rights here — those are established — but what is not established is whether the capacity is in place.

In each polling station, they already know beforehand how many voters are registered, how many people to expect to arrive and [a window of] eight to nine hours. So you should be able to anticipate factors like the heat and [peak hours].

But you should be able to quickly process people coming — and that was a failure. There were a lot of people standing outside.

Why go-slow then? It means you are disenfranchising people who have already come to the stations and that I think has a bearing on the whole legitimacy of this exercise.

Even if there is a five to 10 percent incidence of people unable to vote despite being in the vicinity of the station, then we have a result that is not representative of people’s will as epitomised by the presence in the polling booth.

We have [around] 107 million voters, and even if there is a 50 percent turnout then we will be looking at something like 53 or 54 million people.

Even if there is a five percent variance, we are looking at 2.5 million people who could have voted if got an extra one hour — and that is a pretty huge number.

Who is going to benefit from five million voters not being able to vote? We all know who.

Who is going to lose? The people.