Election Commission apprehensive of I-voting for expats

ISLAMABAD – As the process of by-elections on vacant seats of National and Provincial Assemblies will start from Tuesday (tomorrow), the Election Commission of Pakistan remains jittery over use of internet voting (I-voting) for overseas Pakistanis because of technical complications.

The ECP spokesperson said that I-voting facility would be extended to overseas Pakistanis in coming by-elections in compliance with the Supreme Court orders.

The spokesperson said that the court had ordered the ECP to go for I-voting in the coming by-elections, even though the ECP had planned a pilot project that would not impact the actual poll results.

As per the plan, I-voting was to be introduced on experimental basis and the ECP had opposed inclusion of I-vote count in the actual results.

The spokesperson issued the statement in reaction to some political leaders who had criticised the ECP for ‘acting in haste’ over introduction of the I-voting facility.

Nomination papers by the candidates for by-elections on 37 vacant seats of the National and Provincial Assemblies will be received from Tuesday. Scrutiny of nomination papers will be conducted by Sept 4. The by-elections on vacant seats of the National Assembly and Provincial Assemblies will be held on October 14.

On the other hand, Opposition political parties said that they were in favour allowing overseas Pakistanis to vote, but the voting method introduced by the ECP was untested as it was vulnerable to hacking and manipulations.

They feared that another debacle would happen following the controversial malfunction of the android-based result compilation and transmission system (RTS) used in July general elections.

Sources in the ECP while requesting anonymity said that the I-voting system was technically-complicated process, hoping that it proves successful this time around and does not cause any embarrassment.

The sources said that it was for the first time that I-voting system was being used and hoped that it was not hacked and manipulated by any foreign power.

The ECP has asked National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) to register overseas Pakistani voters by September 15.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court had directed the ECP to ensure voting rights to overseas Pakistanis in the upcoming by-polls.

The SC had directed the ECP to cooperate with NADRA and ensure proper arrangements to make the pilot project a success. The court had also directed that results of I-voting should be included in the final results. However, the I-voting results will be stored separately and taken out from the final count in case of a conflict.

In June this year, the Supreme Court had deferred the case relating to granting right to vote to millions of overseas Pakistanis until after the July 25 general elections.

A report of a task force made public by the ECP says that foreign agencies pose an entirely different class of threat as compared to ordinary hackers. These organisations have vast resources and capabilities at their disposal. Their attacks can be extremely stealthy and of a magnitude that is sometimes difficult for a layman to even comprehend.

The report notes that the system does not ensure ballot secrecy as required under Clause 94 of the Elections Act 2017 and Article 226 of the Constitution. The shortcoming is inherent to the proposed model of internet-voting system.

However, NADRA has ruled out any misuse of the system in by-polls to be held in 37 constituencies of the National Assembly and Provincial Assemblies and the number of registered overseas Pakistani voters would not be more than a few hundred in any of these constituencies.

The ECP in collaboration with NADRA has developed an online voting system for expatriate Pakistanis. Using this system, they will be able to cast their votes in their home constituencies from the comfort of their homes, using any internet-connected device like personal computer, mobile phone, laptop or tablet.

An overseas voter who wishes to use the system must have a National Identity Card for overseas Pakistanis (NICOP), a Machine-Readable Passport (MRP) and a valid email address.

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