Electoral rolls: New lists illustrate possible prior anomalies

Over 83 million voters currently being registered, CNIC to be made voting requirement.


Irfan Ghauri February 07, 2011

ISLAMABAD: The computerisation process of the electoral rolls has revealed several anomalies which cast doubt on the integrity of voter lists used in previous elections, according to sources within the Election Commission of Pakistan.

According to the sources, the new electoral rolls will contain over 83 million names. This list is based on the biometric database of every person who currently holds a computerised national identity card (CNIC), maintained by the National Database & Registration Authority (NADRA). There is, however, a discrepancy in the growth rate: while the population is estimated to have grown by approximately 8.2 per cent since the last election, the new electoral rolls show a growth of only 3.8 per cent.

During the 2008 election, there were 80.1 million registered voters in the country. If the list used in the previous election were accurate, contend some Election Commission officials, the NADRA list for the next election should have been almost 86 million voters. The NADRA list contains the names of an estimated 95 per cent of all Pakistanis above the age of 18, the age at which a citizen becomes eligible to vote.

A bill currently under consideration in Parliament would make a CNIC the only acceptable form of identification for voting. The bill is expected to pass before May 1, when the process of the compilation of the new lists is expected to be completed. At that point, the Election Commission of Pakistan will kick off a door-to-door registration and verification drive to ensure the accuracy and completeness of the lists.

A similar bill had been proposed in the previous election but was not implemented upon receiving objections from, among others, the currently ruling Pakistan Peoples Party. At the time, NADRA’s database contained only 65 million names and would have left a considerable proportion of the country’s adult population off the rolls. As a result, the Supreme Court ruled that the government could not make holding a CNIC a voting requirement.

However, officials in the Election Commission, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak on the subject, said that process used in the last election had caused many duplications and bogus names to be included on the electoral rolls. Some officials even suggested that the number of anomalous names on the list was in the millions.

The new process, however, is expected to result in far fewer discrepancies since it will utilise NADRA’s database, which is one of the largest biometric databases in the world. Every voter will be issued a unique identification number, linked to their CNIC number.

In the next phase, NADRA plans on including voter registration in its CNIC forms so that citizens who apply for an identification card are automatically registered to vote.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 7th, 2011.

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