Electronic voting is a good idea, but …(on Information technology)-DAWN

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FREE and fair elections are an integral part of democracy. However, in Pakistan’s case, the process has always been made controversial with allegations and counter-allegations of stealing the mandate, electoral rigging or manipulations.

Once the elections are over, the losing political parties cry foul over the results and accuse the winning side of having stolen the votes. In the process, other institutions are also blamed for meddling into the election process to favour a particular political party.

Successive governments have tried to introduce electoral reforms to address the issue, but their efforts were not good enough. The 2018 general elections were no exception. Since then, the opposition has been terming the incumbent government ‘selected’.

Being mindful of the problem, the government has started to reform the election mechanism. To do that, among other things, the idea of electronic voting machines (EVMs) is also advocated to overcome the loopholes and make the process as transparent as possible.

The prime minister was also given a demonstration of the proposed EVMs. Indeed this longstanding problem must be sorted out but with caution. However, to think that electronic voting is the sole solution is a misplaced perception.

Such machines had been tested by several other countries in the past, but they had to be discarded because of technical glitches. For a cash-strapped country like ours, the manufacturing of thousands of these devices will cost the national exchequer dearly.

These machines will demand storage facilities, which will require more finances. Their maintenance on a regular basis to avoid malfunctioning on the voting day will add to the cost. Further, these EVMs will also be prone to cyber-attacks and manipulations by other elements.

Besides, even if the availability is ensured, their operating staff will have to undergo sufficient training. That training will not only require adequate time, but also resources.

The literacy rate in the country should be taken into account too. With some 40 per cent of the population being illiterate, it will be a daunting challenge for them to cast vote through a digital setup. Their unfamiliarity with the new mechanism will make the entire process susceptible to exploitation and fraud.

In addition, extra staff will be required in or near each polling station to ensure technical support. Likewise, safety of the machines after the polling is over will require extra vigilance. Therefore, the issue should not be made as simple as it is being presented. The government should take all stakeholders into confidence over the proposed reforms, including the issue of EVMs and their applicability in elections. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has also objected to some of the measures being talked about, while the opposition also has reservations that need to be addressed.

Instead of experimenting with a novel idea and making the whole process more controversial, it will be prudent to bring about reforms in the paper-based elections and make it more transparent and acceptable to all. Hasty decisions in this sensitive matter should be avoided at this stage.