Technological innovations will make bogus voting difficult if not impossible in Pakistan, where the number of bogus votes has called into question the legitimacy of the present government, if the introduction of biometrics is mandated for the next elections.
Once election authorities have compiled computerised electoral rolls with voters’ pictures, they plan to introduce specially designed ballot papers inscribed with a watermark, magnetic ink and biometrics to determine voters’ identity. Voters will stamp the ballot paper with magnetic ink. Once the votes are polled, the election commission (ECP) will be able to verify them by their counterfoils. “In case of any complaints, the fake voter can be traced by biometrics,” an official involved in the electoral reforms told The Express Tribune.
Initially, voters will be counterchecked in constituencies where there are complaints of bogus votes. A person involved in fake or multiple voting faces a minimum of three years’ imprisonment and fine under the existing law but it is difficult to prove charges. After the reforms, even the presiding officer will be empowered to send a person to prison for six months if charged with unfair practices. The electoral list used in the 2008 general elections contained over 37 million bogus votes which comes to around 45 per cent of the 81 million registered voters. Voter turnout in Pakistan hovers between 32 and 36 per cent, which makes the whole process questionable. This prompted the decision to revise electoral rolls in collaboration with NADRA in 2011.
ECP’s top officials complain of non-cooperation from mainstream political parties. The PPP and the PML-N have not been forthcoming when called for consultations on reforms. The commission has already held three consultative meetings with political parties, stated the ECP media office, for making CNIC mandatory for registration of voters and casting votes by amending the relevant law and awarding permanent symbols to political parties.
The commission would also like to share the method adopted for on-ground verification of electoral rolls by field officers in the next meeting. ECP officials say it would take time to introduce electronic voting machines which are a sure-fire way of eliminating bogus votes. However, there is a plan to introduce them in some constituencies on an experimental basis. Electoral rolls for 2011 will be based on new census blocks, recently demarcated by the Population Census Organisation.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 13th, 2011.