Prime Minister Imran Khan has expressed his interest regarding the implementation of Electronic Voting Machines for future elections. The proposed machines consist of two separate units, a control unit and a balloting unit. While this is an ambitious feat for Mr Khan to want to accomplish, it is worth noting the implications which such a distinct transformation in election procedure could cause.
Some 12 years ago, the Election Commission of Pakistan established the EVM Committee, in order to properly gauge how well the technology associated with such machines could be put into practice in a Pakistani environment. $6.5 billion, or 1 trillion Pakistani rupees, must be pumped into the project in order to replace manual paper ballot voting procedures with digital ones; this includes the machines themselves, biometric verification tactics as well as a new system for Overseas Pakistanis to cast their votes through the internet.
Those familiar with electoral procedures aren’t convinced this line of machinery will be effective, however. Former secretary of the Election Commission of Pakistan, Kanwar Dilshad, recently attested to the lack of trust he placed in the government’s exercise to host a rejuvenated sense of ‘free and fair elections’ by means of this new medium in the country.
“This is a futile exercise,” he said, adding that 60 billion rupees had to be exhausted on the procurement of 350,000 machines. “Pilot projects [carried out by the ECP] regarding [the implementation of] EVMs have failed in the past.”
In 2018, a similar technology called the Result Transmission System was implemented into the general election process. While at first it seemed like a promising breakthrough, it collapsed on itself during the counting process. Senator Taj Haider of the Pakistan People’s Party has stated that, after this affair, “no political party is ready to trust technology.”
Another issue he pointed to is the lack of trust the political opposition places in the autocratic-style of leadership which currently governs the nation, which they believe could comfortably meddle with the results. Brash military tactics have been used to sway public perception in the country’s past, and the many Pakistani parties aren’t quite ready to turn the other cheek; Haider isn’t convinced that the use of novel EVMs will be any different. “E-voting can only proceed if elections [can be] conducted without establishment interference under an honest and independent Election Commission.”
Ground rules must be laid out, and a code of ethics has to be put into action if there is to be any trust placed in the new EVM systems. Senior PML(N) leader Raja Zafar ul-Haq has said that EVMs would diminish the electoral process’ credibility if it were to be launched without a consensus. A “fear of manipulation” would be felt by most across the country, he added.
In 2018, government officials coalesced a document looking into internet voting as a whole. Their main finding was that most technologically-advanced countries worldwide either “rolled back” e-voting, or “deliberately chose” not to deploy it. “Researchers have discovered vulnerabilities […] on such systems,” the audit went on to say. These were found in countries like the U.S. and Australia, which affected tens of thousands of votes there, respectively.
Those who were conducting the report sought to prove their concerns. As a result, officials sent fake emails addressed from NADRA, the country’s National Database and Registration Authority, which directed suspecting victims (voters) to a fraudulent voting website. The result, they concluded, was that the deliberate phishing attempt was a major success. This is to say that if proper protocols are not followed in the administration of millions of voting machines across the Republic, deliberate manipulation is not a far-fetched theme to be concerned of.
The costs relating to the education regarding the use of these machines is another aspect to account for altogether. As of August 2020, only 40.95% of Pakistani citizens have access to the internet, and only 15.9% have smartphones. To implement Electronic Voting Machines is a liberty which can only be afforded to those with the means of understanding the process in the first place.
In 2002, the Republic of Ireland carried out a similar exercise, by utilising Electronic Voting Machines in just three of their forty-two constituencies. After mass public opposition due to a lack of effective guidance as to the proper usage of the machines, the idea was dumped, and the fifty-four million euros which had been spent on the scheme went to waste. The systems were ultimately scrapped for nine euros and thirty cents per machine, the equivalent of less than two thousand Pakistani rupees today. Today, the Irish population is still undecided or flat-out pessimistic in response to EVMs being reintroduced into the electoral process. For a country praised as being the IT hub of Europe, home to hundreds of multinational software and hardware companies, to be weary of proposed technological advancement speaks volumes with regards to the catastrophic nature of e-voting.
In the quest of modernisation, entire elections can be made redundant. If Electronic Voting Machines are to be introduced, they require a solid foundation, extensive and plentiful research, and rugged backing from an impartial organisation outside of the authority of any power, as well as, not to mention, comprehensive preparation for everyone, and not a select few, to effectively put to use this new technology. No one person should be left behind.