In a major attempt to ensure electoral transparency and fairness, authorities have decided to use machine-readable paper for ballot papers in the next elections.
The new ballot papers will replace those currently used, which are printed on normal paper and thus can be copied or changed with relative ease.
The move is a central part of the Election Commission of Pakistan’s reform programme. The special paper will be similar to that used in currency notes, with machine-readable hidden features to counter bogus voting, a common occurrence in the country’s electoral process.
“The decision has been taken. The newly proposed ballot papers will be used in the next general elections, whenever they take place,” an official involved in the project told The Express Tribune.
To ensure further transparency and check bogus voting, he said the commission is also planning to use magnetic ink for thumb impressions on every ballot paper. In case of any complaints the authorities would be able to identify a bogus vote and also track down the identity of the person who committed the crime.
The ECP currently gets its ballot papers printed from the official printing press of Pakistan. The process of printing ballots is usually completed a week before polling day. Anyone who obtains a sample paper or even a scanned copy can print multiple copies within hours for little effort.
Under the current system the voter is required to put his thumb impression on the counterfoil of the paper used for casting the vote with standard ink, which does not help in tracing the person. Thus hardly anyone has been punished for casting a bogus vote, despite the practice being widespread during elections.
According to the ECP plan, the hidden features of the new ballot papers would change regularly, making it almost impossible to print forged papers. Someone found guilty of bogus voting can be imprisoned for three years according to the law. If it is proven that an electoral candidate is involved in the crime directly or indirectly he cannot only be disqualified but also banned from taking part in elections for five years.
The ECP official, who was not authorised to speak on the record, said that the printing of such ballot papers will be a costly business - estimated at three times higher than the normal ballot papers. However, he said, it would help ensure transparency and was therefore worth the cost.
When asked if the commission would be able to implement the plan if elections are held earlier than schedule, the official said that the ECP would have 90 days, and this would be ample time to prepare the new papers.
The official also said that the commission can take such a decision without the need for legislation. However, if electronic voting machines are used – and these are under review at the ECP – the relevant law would need to be amended.
edited by imran yusuf
Published in The Express Tribune, December 5th, 2011.