A high level delegation of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is set to visit the United States to study the country’s absentee voting system, a well-placed source told The Express Tribune. The move follows recent directives issued by the Supreme Court regarding voting rights for millions of overseas Pakistanis.
Justice (retd ) Akbar Khan, a member of the ECP, will lead the delegation travelling on November 3 to meet election authorities in Washington, where they will examine the possibility of implementing an absentee voter system in Pakistan. If implemented, it would allow approximately four million overseas Pakistanis to exercise their right to vote in next year’s general election.
The system currently used by the US requires absentee voters to register to vote with local election officials in their state of legal voting residence. Each year, these voters have to request absentee ballots. Their name is then added to a list of people who will receive absentee ballots for elections that year. After receiving and completing their ballots, individuals send them back either electronically or by mail before the allotted deadline.
The US also has a system in place for those who receive their ballots late in the form of an emergency write-in absentee ballot.
Earlier, the ECP had announced that, due to serious difficulties, it would not be possible for overseas Pakistanis to cast their ballots in the general election.
At a meeting following the Supreme Court’s order that overseas Pakistanis should be able to vote, the ECP decided to explore a workable solution to the issue.
The apex court has also asked the ECP to provide transport to voters on polling day. However, an ECP official said that this directive was not possible to implement in time for the general elections in 2013.
“It is absolutely not possible for the ECP to provide transport to the 90 million voters on the day of polling for the National Assembly and the provincial assembly elections,” said an official.
The ECP top brass has decided to increase the number of polling stations from 70,000 to 95,000 so that voters will not have to travel long distances to reach their nearest polling station.
“We will set up polling stations at the doorsteps of the voters,” the official said adding, “voters will also not have to wait for hours and hours in the long queues to cast their votes.”
The official added that the ECP was bound to ensure that the overseas vote is not used to rig the elections and any solution to the voting rights for overseas Pakistanis must be unanimously agreed upon and accepted by all political parties.
The ECP has found the postal ballot system to be an ineffective way to conduct overseas voting, but has considered voting through the internet as one feasible option.
Additionally, Pakistan will have to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with those countries where more than 20 or 100 are not allowed to assemble to vote. These proposed MoUs will make it possible for the overseas Pakistanis in various countries to assemble in hundreds outside polling stations to cast their votes.
Allowing overseas Pakistanis to vote will be an expensive exercise. It will cost millions of dollars to meet the court’s directive if polling stations are established in so many countries, due to the fact that expatriates are so widespread.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 2nd, 2012.