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Controversy over EVMs

Even after the government bulldozed amendments to the Elections Act, 2017, allowing the use of electronic voting machines and granting voting rights to overseas Pakistanis, the challenge to actually translate this law into reality will be huge for an array of credible reasons.

The biggest impediment will come from the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), which has strongly opposed these provisions for long on solid grounds. Meanwhile, the Opposition has decided to approach Supreme Court in this regard.

The electoral body, which earlier raised 37 objections on EVMs, has now indicated that it will go through 14 stages before using electronic voting machine in the next general elections. The ECP secretary told the standing committee that there are many challenges in using EVMs: There will be 3 to 4 more pilot projects in this regard. It remains to be figured out how many machines there will be at a polling station.

According to the Election Commission, free, transparent and credible elections cannot be held through electronic voting machine as per the Constitution. However, there are reports that the ECP had submitted a comprehensive report 18 months ago on the electronic voting machine in Parliament and no consideration has been given to it.

The cost of one machine is Rs2 lakhs. Reports have indicated that almost 800,000 machines will be procured for 2023 elections. Delivering and returning the machines safely is a big challenge, while transportation charges will come separately for delivering electronic voting machines everywhere.

Before implementing the new system, the government should keep in mind that the last general election in 2018 cost about 20-25 billion rupees, the 2013 general election cost 4.73 billion rupees and the 2008 general election cost 1.84 billion rupees.

However, the use of electronic voting machine is expected to cost more than 150 billion. This is not a mean amount in Pakistan which is financially unprecedentedly tied up and is living on borrowed money with its foreign and domestic loans having hit the highest point in the national history.

Each EVM booth will require separate manpower. It is difficult to fully train the presiding officers and staff at each polling booth. Two to three IT personnel will have to be deployed at each polling station. In the next election there is a possibility of one lakh polling stations for which at least three lakh IT specialists will be required.

Meanwhile, the Centre has once again urged the Opposition parties and other stakeholders to sit with the government on electoral reforms to hold ‘objection-free’ general elections. However, important questions regarding EVMs have been raised by the Election Commission of Pakistan and serious circles which need to be considered.

That in order to exercise the people’s right to vote in a transparent and full manner, the government, the opposition and the Election Commission should find a way of achieving consensus instead of indulging in disagreement for dissent.

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