• CEC warns EVMs’ introduction without pilot-testing would be a disaster
• Initial purchase of machines to cost around Rs258bn

ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) was informed on Thursday that further legislation would be required before electronic voting machines (EVMs) and Internet-based voting for overseas Pakistanis could be introduced.

A meeting chaired by Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja was briefed by the ECP secretary on the findings of three committees that had been formed to implement legislation on EVMs and internet-based voting.

The three committees were tasked with looking at different aspects of the issue; one body examined the technical aspects, another looked at the cost of the process while a third committee was to pinpoint challenges and suggest amendments to existing laws and rules.

A participant of the meeting quoted the CEC as saying that introducing EVMs without first carrying out pilot projects could be a disaster.

An ECP official told Dawn that offences under the existing law had to be made compatible with the new technology if EVMs were to be used. He pointed out that snatching or attempting to snatch a ballot box is an offence under the present law, but manipulation of electronic voting is not.

According to the CEC, at least four to six pilot projects would be conducted before opting for voting via EVMs, adding that the commission was all for the introduction of technology and would take all possible steps in that direction.

He also said that best international practices would be followed and they would learn from the experience of countries using modern electoral technologies.

The CEC also underlined the need for appropriate training for those who will be handling the EVMs, taking all stakeholders — including political parties and civil society — on board and developing voter trust in the new technology.

CEC Raja also gave the go-ahead to start the process of tendering for procurement of EVMs for these pilot projects.

After a member asked what would happen if political parties objected to the use of EVMs, it was decided that all stakeholders would be taken into confidence and briefed on the committee’s key findings.

The ECP was also briefed on the roadmap and plan of action of all phases of the procurement and use of EVMs, including storage, security, configuration and transportation of the machines during elections.

The meeting was told that approval for setting up of a project management unit had already been accorded and the services of three officers were being acquired for this purpose, while an amount of Rs258 billion would be immediately required for the procurement of EVMs and related expenses.

It was decided that all laws and rules will be followed in the procurement process and all possible efforts would be made to ensure that the quality of the machines and their secrecy and security was beyond reproach.

On overseas voting, the committee has proposed four options, inc­luding Internet-based voting, pos­tal balloting, online voting at Pak­istani missions abroad and postal e-voting. Apart from this, the committee has also proposed reserved seats and a separate electoral college for overseas Pakistanis.

Published in Dawn, January 14th, 2022

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