ECP forms three panels to enforce EVM legislation

Published November 24, 2021
The technical committee headed by the Election Commission of Pakistan secretary has a mandate to look into electoral technologies, identify global standard and best international practices to prepare a final concept paper. — Photo via Radio Pakistan/File
The technical committee headed by the Election Commission of Pakistan secretary has a mandate to look into electoral technologies, identify global standard and best international practices to prepare a final concept paper. — Photo via Radio Pakistan/File

ISLAMABAD: The Election Commi­ssion of Pakistan (ECP) on Tuesday formed three panels to ‘implement’ legislation on electronic voting machines (EVMs) and voting facility for overseas Pakistanis.

The development comes days after a record number of bills, including the controversial election-related bills, were bulldozed at a joint sitting of parliament amidst noisy protest by the opposition and accusations that the government plans to electronically steal the 2023 general elections.

According to the ECP, the first committee will look into the technical aspects, the second financial cost of the process and the third will point out difficulties and suggest amendments to the existing laws and rules.

Committees will look into technical aspects, financial implications and suggest amendments to existing laws, rules

The technical committee headed by the ECP secretary has a mandate to look into electoral technologies, identify global standard and best international practices, scope of work, policy, strategy of machine production, its technical and functional examination and to prepare a final concept paper.

This committee will also prepare request for proposal (RFP) while remaining within the ambit of law and point out future needs in this respect. It will also suggest the required process and mode of implementation.

The second committee headed by the additional secretary (admin) will look into the financial implications of introducing EVMs and overseas voting. It will make proposals concerning pilot testing and mechanism for their use. The committee will also make recommendations on budget requirement of the ECP and other associated matters, including storage of EVMs on a short- and long-term basis.

The ECP has already proposed a project to the Planning Commission for storage facility at H-11/4, Islamabad, and allocation of a government building as a stopgap arrangement.

The mandate of the third committee headed by the director general (law) is to make a comparative analysis of the laws governing electoral processes, identify difficulties and suggest amendments to the existing laws and rules.

The ECP secretary had on November 18 said he was unsure about the use of EVMs in the next general elections. The issue had come under discussion at a meeting of the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Law and Justice and the ECP secretary briefed the panel on the machine.

He had said it was premature to confirm the use of EVMs in the next general elections due to certain challenges, adding that the ECP should undertake three to four pilot projects before using the machines in the general elections. Moreover, he added, the commission still had to figure out the exact number of EVMs for each polling station.

Serious flaws in the EVM bill had also been highlighted at the meeting. A PML-N lawmaker had said the bill introduced electronic voting without omitting the provision of manual voting which meant that at present the Elections Act allowed both electronic and manual voting in elections.

Months before the passage of the poll-related bills by parliament, the ECP had raised objections to 45 of the total 72 proposed amendments in the first bill. The commission found 15 amendments repugnant to the Constitution and five inconsistent with the Elections Act itself. A total of 17 amendments had been opposed by the commission on administrative grounds.

The ECP had raised as many as 37 objections over the plan to introduce EVMs. It said the time was too short for a large-scale procurement and deployment of EVMs and imparting training to a massive number of operators, adding that it was not advisable to introduce EVM nationwide in one go.

A document submitted to a Senate committee in September said the polls on one day as required under the law would be nearly impossible.

The ECP also referred to various other issues linked with the use of EVM, including lack of ballot secrecy, lack of capacity at all levels and lack of ensuring security and chain of custody for the machines at rest and during transportation. It also pointed out that there would be no evidence available in case of election dispute.

The ECP noted that data integration and configuration issues might crop up due to court orders at the eleventh hour regarding a change in ballot paper. The commission said there was an absence of dust- and humid-free controlled temperature environment warehouse for storage. It said a huge learning curve was required for technical operators, adding that there was no consensus among the stakeholders on EVM which was also not financially feasible.

The ECP said EVM could not prevent low voters’ turnout, low women’s turnout, misuse of state authority, election fraud, electronic ballot stuffing, vote buying, the law and order situation, dishonest polling staff, widespread political and electoral violence and abuse of state resources.

Published in Dawn, November 24th, 2021

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