Rubbishing earlier claims by minister Shibli Faraz, ECP stresses available EVMs cannot prevent poll rigging
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Tuesday rubbished earlier claims by Science and Technology Minister Shibli Faraz and submitted a list of 37 objections to the incumbent government’s desire to introduce electronic voting machines (EVMs) in the next general elections.
Last month, Faraz had told media that in his meetings with the ECP, it had not raised any “serious” objections, claiming that the independent body had been satisfied with the EVMs that had been shown to it. The document submitted to the Senate Standing Committee on Parliamentary Affairs suggests he was not entirely truthful.
“Machine is hackable and tamper-prone, which can cause calculation errors,” reads the document. “[EVM] software can easily be altered,” it continues. “It is nearly impossible to ensure that every machine is honest,” it adds, noting that the proposed model also leaves no evidence of alleged rigging in case of election disputes.
Among the concerns voiced by the ECP was a lack of time for large-scale implementation of EVMs in the next general elections; lack of ballot secrecy and voters’ anonymity; lack of transparency and capacity at all levels; and lack of pilot testing. It also noted that the machines were not “financially viable,” and that there was no way to ensure chain of custody during their transport to polling stations.
The incumbent government has repeatedly claimed the EVMs would prevent the practice of losing candidates alleging rigging. The ECP questions this. “EVM cannot prevent low voter turnout, low women voters’ turnout, misuse of state authorities, election fraud, electronic ballot stuffing, vote buying, law and order situation, dishonest polling staff, widespread political and electoral violence, abuse of state resources by incumbent parties,” it says. It also rubbishes the government’s claims of countries switching to EVMs globally: “Germany, Holland abandoned [EVMs] due to lack of transparency. Ireland, Italy and Finland abandoned due to lack of security.”
A key demand of the ECP is for the government to enact legislations that allow for the use of EVMs. It also warns of a lack of independence of electoral management bodies. It also questions the viability of EVMs under the country’s present election process. Noting that polling in one day is “nearly impossible,” it stresses a lack of trained staff to operate the machines, and warns of the difficulty of data integration and configuration issues in case there are any last-minute court orders for changes to ballot papers.
The Senate Standing Committee meeting was also attended by several representatives of civil society, who opposed both the plans to introduce EVMs as well as internet voting for overseas Pakistanis. The ECP’s objections take note of this. “There is no consensus among stakeholders,” it say, warning of a lack of public trust and confidence in the process if it’s launched nationwide without pilot testing. “[There is] lack of trust by stakeholders, civil society organizations, NGOs, media,” it notes, adding that the government is acting in haste “by not following the due process, which is the negation of all international standards.”
The ECP also raised several objections to technical aspects of the EVMs. “All process are outsources to international or national firms,” it said, adding that technological advances would mean the EVMs would become obsolete fairly quickly. It also noted a lack of dust-free, humid-free and controlled temperate warehouse to store the machines. “[There is] huge learning curve for technical operators,” it said, adding there were scalability issues at the demographic and geographic levels. “Dependency on machine vendors as the vendors provide support for maintenance, updates, configuration, and reconfiguration in the period between election, which create possibility for fraud,” it says.
Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan described the ECP document as a “murder FIR” against EVMs, and said the body should conduct a pilot project prior to the general elections. He reiterated the government’s claims that it was willing to address any reservations, but agreed that there were some issues with internet voting.
Summarizing its reservations, the ECP added: “Due to above-mentioned challenges and implementing new technologies in haste, the conduct of free, fair, credible, and transparent elections as per Constitution are not possible. Public trust and confidence will remain shaky.”