ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has explained that internet voting (I-voting) facility will be extended to overseas Pakistanis in coming by-elections in compliance of Supreme Court orders.

Commenting on statements of some political leaders criticising the ECP for “acting in haste” over introduction of I-voting, a spokesman for the commission said the ECP had planned a pilot project that would not impact the actual poll results. As per the plan, I-voting is to be introduced on experimental basis and the commission has opposed the inclusion of I-vote count in the actual results.

The spokesman, however, said the court had ordered the ECP to go for I-voting in the coming by-elections.

Web-based system for overseas Pakistanis to be introduced in by-polls on experimental basis

A task force comprising IT experts and constituted by the ECP to examine the possibility of introducing I-voting facility for overseas Pakistanis has recently warned that the system is likely to be attacked by foreign governments and intelligence agencies.

A report of the task force made public by the ECP says foreign agencies pose an entirely different class of threat as compared to ordinary hackers. These organisations typically have vast resources and capabilities at their disposal. Their attacks can be extremely stealthy and of a magnitude that is sometimes difficult for a layman to even comprehend.

The report notes that the system does not ensure ballot secrecy as required under Clause 94 of the Elections Act, 2017, and Article 226 of the Constitution. The shortcoming is inherent to the proposed model of internet-voting system.

When contacted, an official of the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) said it was providing technical support to the ECP on the orders of the apex court and had provided a solution.

He ruled out the possibility of misuse of the system saying by-polls were to be held in only 37 constituencies of the national and provincial assemblies and the number of registered overseas Pakistani voters would not be more than a few hundred in any of these constituencies.

The ECP in collaboration with Nadra has developed an online voting system for expatriate Pakistanis. Using this system, they will be able to cast their votes in their home constituencies from the comfort of their homes, using any internet-connected device like personal computer, mobile phone, laptop or tablet. An overseas voter who wishes to use the system must have a national identity card for overseas Pakistanis (NICOP), a machine-readable passport (MRP) and a valid email address.

Overseas Pakistan must register with the online voting system to cast their votes. They will have to visit a website (www.overseasvoting.gov.pk) to register and create an account using their email address and mobile phone number. Using the account they will then have to log in to the website and select the menu of registration. The system will first determine the eligibility of the voter and ask him/her to enter the 13-digit unique identity number printed on the NICOP, issuance date of the card, MRP number and the tracking ID printed on the MRP. If the voter is eligible, the system will ask two verification questions from the data to confirm his/her identity.

On successful verification, the voter will be sent a notification of successful registration and subsequently the system will delist the overseas voter from the local voter list. Registered voters will be sent a voter password before the elections. On election day, the voters will log into the website using their account, go to their constituency using voter password, select the option of ‘vote now’ and cast their vote. On conclusion of the polling, the ECP will enable the reporting portal so that returning officers may view and print results of online voting.

In a related development, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf Senator Azam Swati called on Prime Minister Imran Khan and presented him a report on the much talked about ‘RTS (result transmission system) fiasco’ prepared by a committee headed by him. The prime minister asked Mr Swati to seek opinion of forensic experts before making the report public.

Published in Dawn, August 26th, 2018

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