Separate committee outlines options to grant voting rights to overseas Pakistanis
An Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) committee on Thursday informed a meeting of the institution’s leadership that more parliamentary legislation needs to be enacted before electronic voting machines (EVMs) can be used in general elections.
Chaired by Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja, the meeting was briefed on the findings of three committees that had been formed by the ECP to examine the implementation of EVMs and internet-voting in future elections.
The three committees, formed in November 2021, were all directed to examine the introduction and implementation of EVMs and i-voting through different aspects: one was tasked with examining the technical aspects, a second examined the overall costs, and a third set out to pinpoint challenges to implementation and suggest amendments to laws to rectify them.
On EVMs, the ECP was informed that it would need up to Rs. 258 billion to procure all the devices it required for general elections. It decided that at least four to six pilot projects would be conducted before the EVMs could be used in general elections, with the CEC stressing that the institution supported the use of technology and would follow the best international practices and learn from the experience of countries that were already using similar devices.
Referring to the findings of the committee, the CEC noted that existing laws must be made compatible with the use of EVMs. This would include, but not be limited to, ensuring manipulation of electronic voting was rendered illegal under law, as snatching a ballot box is currently.
The CEC also stressed the need to ensure proper training for personnel who handled the EVMs, and said all stakeholders—including the opposition—would be taken onboard to develop trust in the devices.
To grant overseas Pakistanis the right to vote from their place of residence, the committee has recommended four options: Internet-based voting, postal ballots, online voting at Pakistani missions and postal e-voting. It also recommended establishing reserved seats and a separate electoral college for overseas Pakistanis, which had earlier also been recommended by opposition lawmakers who had noted that voting on general seats could result in the election of lawmakers that did not represent the locals from their constituencies.
On Nov. 17, 2021, the PTI-led government “bulldozed” the Elections Second (Amendment) Bill, 2021 into law through a joint session of Parliament, granting overseas Pakistanis the right to vote from their place of residence and providing for the introduction of the EVMs in general elections. The ECP has continuously maintained it is willing to utilize technology, but would not rush the process and risk disaster.