Today is the day. Wish, rigging could be eliminated. Reduction is definitely possible, if we know why, how, when and where rigging takes place. But let’s first talk about the context. Datasets of various elections reveal that higher the incidence of poverty and larger the inequality gap (income, land ownership, power, social networking, etc), the higher the probability of the occurrence of rigging. We must also know that the very contestants who want to stop it have very often indulged in it as each one of them believes that everyone else is going to do it too. I call it rigging equilibrium. Also note, 90 per cent polling day rigging is being planned prior to the polling and it may involve the following: registration and deregistration of voters; manipulation for inclusion and exclusion of areas during the delimitation period; influencing decision-makers for the appointment of amenable polling staff, civil servants and the police; initiation of development projects, influence for the inclusion of ‘suitable’ polling stations, etc. At the societal level along with legitimate canvassing, contesting parties and candidates are found committing corrupt practices, including vote buying and confiscation of CNICs through cash payment and payment of utility bills, outstanding house rent/debt, school fees of children, supply of ration, medicines and wedding cost, etc. Almost all ‘electable’ candidates with little variance have excelled in the above. Therefore, it is imperative to know how the above corrupt practices are put in practice or materialise on the polling day and what is being done to prevent them from happening.
Deterrence is being instituted through an act of parliament and the Election Rules. But this will matter nothing if contesting parties fail to deploy well-informed and determined Polling Agents (PAs). Caution: any visible weakness or vulnerability may attract rigging attack. Here are the ingredients of the deterrence. Note them and look out for any deviation and violation. The law has not only empowered the Election Commission (ECP) radically but have also, for the first time, fixed penalty (Section 55) for polling staff in case of violation. It notes the ECP “will take disciplinary proceedings and punishment against any election official including the judicial officials, polling staff, security officials whether belong to civil or armed forces and others.” Moreover, the polling, the counting and result transfer system is being made stringent. For instance, ROs must transfer provisional results of the respective constituency not later than 2am (a fantastic innovation) immediately following the polling day and the polling must start at 8am. This means polling agents and observers must reach there well before.
Setting up of Polling Station (PS) for polling: Without any failing and in all circumstances the polling staff must follow the ECP manual in letter and in spirit. Each Presiding Officer (PO) is being furnished with a copy of manual. And according to the manual, all the polling staff must reach the PS at 6am. PO must set up PS according to the manual without any serious alteration. And the ECP provided pictorial diagram of the PS must be pasted on the walls. Polling Agents (PAs) must be able to see the empty ballot boxes (national and provincial), and ballot box must be sealed in front of them and be kept all the time in front APO. After showing the empty boxes, polling staff will get signatures of all the present PAs on Form 42 and they must note down numbers of all the seals and after the completion of voting, poling agents should compare the seal numbers before they are broken for the counting purpose.
Recognising voter: As rolls have photos of electorates, it’s now easy to recognise the identity of each voter. Polling staff after checking the CNIC must read out name of each in-coming voter loudly so that PAs could hear his/her name and CNIC number. Also note down that only original CNIC (expired or valid) could be used for polling. Copies of CNICs are not allowed at all. Polling agents must take a complete set of the electoral roll of the respective PS. Polling agents must also know that only a rigorous scrutiny of voter can prevent impersonation.
Counting: Opening of ballot boxes and counting must be done in the presence of PAs and observers. Under no circumstance polling staff or security officials can expel any legitimate polling agent and observer even for a minute. All sorting, counting, tabulation and filling of counting forms must be followed as described in the manual. In case of doubt polling agent can consult the manual and if any step is being violated or omitted, she/he must insist on literal enforcement.
Also note that under the law certain kinds of ballots (spoilt, having additional marks/writing, wrongly stamped, found out of the ballot box, torn) shall not be counted at all. Be aware of the fact that any ballot, which is not signed and stamped by the presiding officer, shall not be counted. Therefore, PAs must keenly observe the polling staff whether they are performing this task or not. However, the following kinds of ballots according to the law shall be counted as legitimate: additional impression due to wrong folding and over-inking, and twice stamped in the space of the same candidate. The PAs are expected to remain vigilant during the counting and keep notes of all kinds of ballots, including Tendered, Challenged, Spoilt and Rejected. It is worth noting here that FAFEN had found out soon after the general election of 2013 that in 35 NA constituencies the number of rejected votes was far more than the margin of victory.
If you have any doubt about the counting, under the law any PA can request for recounting, but this can happen only once.
Once counting is completed, PO will prepare the Form 45 in front of all PAs. She/he must record all kinds of ballots in the relevant columns. PO must count and record male and female ballots separately. After the completion of Form 45 and 46 PO is supposed to get signatures of all the present PAs on the forms. The Polling Agents must make sure that POs in their presence have put copies of these in the Tamper Evident Bag before sealing them. The PAs must not leave PS without getting copies of the signed Form 45 and Form 46. They and observers should also witness the following: display/paste of copies of Form 45 and Form 46 outside the PS; send scanned copies of both forms to RO through Result Transfer System.
And all ROs are being provided Result Management Module along with trained staff. This will facilitate the ROs to compile, consolidate prepare and transfer all the counting forms, including Form 47 (provisional consolidated statement of results of the count) Form 48 (consolidated statement of the results of the count), Form 49 (final consolidated results based on Form 45s). Through the RMS all the forms will be scanned, captured and sent to the main server. According to the Election Rules, ‘the ECP will upload promptly all the received data on its website.’ Hence, the results will be available to the public.
Well informed and strong polling agents should be deployed and must not be allowed to leave polling station without obtaining copies of the above-mentioned forms. This is certainly the best way to deter rigging and the best proof to expose rigging if there is any.
Overall the polling processes and procedures are being improved and the ECP’s enforcement appears to have become strict and neutral during the pre-poll period. Today is the judgment day.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 25th, 2018.