The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is all set for experimenting Biometric Voting Machine (BVM) and Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) in the next couple of by-polls.
The ECP, after consultations with international organisations and experts, decided last year to go for multiple pilot projects for doing experiments in e-voting.
Following the demands of political parties, the ECP has decided to start the first BVM pilot project in NA-120 bye-poll scheduled on September 17 to test electronic voting system in Pakistan. The first pilot project for EVM is scheduled for PP-4 bye-poll or another next bye-election.
For the test-run, the ECP has bought 100 BVMs and 150 EVMs. One BVM cost Rs90,000, while the price of one EVM is nearly Rs200,000. However, these machines are bought through internationally floated tenders and the acquired machines are the most advanced machines of the world, equipped with security measures.
BVM is limited only to biometric verification of a voter through finger or face impressions along with Computerised National Identity Card (CNIC). It has nothing to do with the process of balloting, while EVM is related to the electronic process of vote casting. Earlier, BVM was used in NA-19 bye-poll in 2015. The machine was rented from a mobile company and the results were not satisfactory.
The first demand of experimenting e-voting system in Pakistan came from the Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reforms a couple of years ago, including Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), to go for e-voting in the next general elections. Following the demand, the ECP started working out the plans for buying EVM and BVM machines.
This is the first time that a purpose-built machine will be used by trained personnel of the BVM company and the ECP. However, the pilot project of using a BVM in NA-120 will not be part of the electoral process. It would be used in 39 polling stations as a test case, an ECP official tells TNS.
In NA-120, the BVMS will be jointly operated by the ECP-trained staff and the BVM company officials. The ECP has bought 100 BVMS from the company of former NADRA chairman, Saleem Moeen, while the EVMS have been imported from Germany.
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The ECP has also sought best-four finger impressions of NA-120 constituency voters to experiment the BVM process with maximum number of voters. A “clickecp” mobile app is also being introduced to guide and educate voters.
A senior ECP official says they will start multiple pilot projects of e-voting in future before the system is fully recommended for the general elections. Awareness of voters and availability of the required funds is required which may take some time.
Interestingly, while Pakistan is experimenting with e-voting system, many advanced countries in the world have gone back to paper-voting. The EVM process has been reverted in Germany, Netherlands, Ireland, Finland and many other countries. While in some states in the United States of America and United Kingdom, paper voting is trusted.
“Some political parties, particularly the PTI, favour the introduction of e-voting in the next general election as a prerequisite for fairness. However, these parties must consider all aspects of this demand,” says Muddassir Rizvi, a senior representative of Free and Fair Election network (FAFEN). “The voting process used in Pakistan is transparent and effective if implemented in the way it is prescribed in the law.”
Many countries in the world, he says, have reverted to paper-ballot from the EVM system with the passage of time. He believes it will be too early to replace the existing paper ballot system with e-voting, especially, in a country like Pakistan.
He says the cost is one of the major determinants of any decision, “E-voting in Pakistan, if not a billion dollar proposition, it is certainly close to it,” he says, urging the government and the ECP to consider proper implementation of the law and some reforms in the old system.
The ECP believes e-voting can take years to apply and make people accept the system. In India, it took 25 years and it is still not a reliable system.
The application of e-voting system in Pakistan depends on its acceptance from all stakeholders, including political parties and voters.
And finally, it requires huge money. According to some estimates, Pakistan needs nearly Rs100 billion to conduct a general election through EVM and BVM, which includes the cost of machines, operational and other cost. At the moment, the maximum budget of the ECP to hold a general election is only Rs6 billion.
The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA), is an intergovernmental organisation that supports sustainable democracy worldwide. In its report last year on the use of e-voting in the world, it has urged to clearly define the goals for going for e-voting, “Make sure electronic voting is the most appropriate solution. Be aware of the challenges. None of the systems currently available is perfect, nor is there agreement on what a perfect e-voting system would look like.”