The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is set to finish geographic information system (GIS) based mapping of all polling stations in the country in time for the next general elections.
This will allow voters to use mapping softwares accessible through the ECP website to get walking or driving directions to their polling stations.
Other technology-based updates under implementation at the ECP are the computerization of electoral rolls containing information of all eligible voters in the country and introduction of a results transmission system.
ECP public relations officer (PRO) Huda Gohar tells TR Pakistan that almost half the work on the Computerized Electoral Rolls System (CERS) has been completed and it is expected to be put in place ahead of the next general elections.
Gohar says that ECP will soon acquire data of existing voters from the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA). To record new voters’ information directly onto the computerized electoral rolls, the ECP “will hire data entry operators and procure required equipment for its district offices”.
With the electoral rolls database, the ECP hopes to eliminate duplicate votes as well as make the process of registration and transfer of votes more efficient.
Currently, the verification of information of a citizen approaching the ECP for registration or transfer of their vote is a relatively long-drawn process. The ECP officer concerned is required to share this information with NADRA and wait for the authority to verify it. The time spent in this communication will be saved once the ECP officer concerned has access to the CERS that will automatically verify voter information with NADRA data.
However, the computerization of electoral rolls will not lead to any change in voter registration and transfer process. Prospective voters can download application forms online but they still need to print it, fill it out and take it to the ECP district office concerned with the required documents (a photocopy of their CNIC as well as a utility bill in cases where the current address is different from the address on the CNIC). Gohar says there are no immediate plans to move registration process online. “We will start working on it as soon as we are told to do so by the parliament,” she says.
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In an online poll soliciting responses on citizens’ experience with registration and transfer of their votes, TR Pakistan found that most respondents are unaware of the vote registration process. An implication is that registration has been taken care of by political parties or individual contestants rather than voters on their own.
Most respondents said their vote was registered in their area of residence in the 2013 general election as well as in the 2015 local government elections. Those whose votes had been transferred without their knowledge between 2013 and 2015 were split almost in half among those who cast ballots at the polling station away from their area of residence and those who didn’t cast a ballot at all because either they learnt about it too late or simply didn’t feel like getting it transferred.
The development of a Results Transmission System (RTS) is also underway but the ECP PRO says that it may not be ready for use in the next general elections.
The ECP had designed a system for computerized compilation and transmission of results from polling stations to its Islamabad headquarters for the 2013 general election. The decision to use the system was taken back at the last minute due to ‘technical issues in the RMS system’.
The new system for transmission of results has been tested in recent by-polls but a systematic piloting is yet to be undertaken and trainings of the staff is still underway. These head trainers will give a crash course on the software to returning officers once the commission is satisfied with the system and is confident to implement it, the PRO says.
With RTS operationalized, the returning officers in charge of a constituency will not need to fax results’ data to the Islamabad headquarters. Instead, they will generate computerized Forms 15 (ballot papers count) and 16 (consolidated vote count for all candidates) and transmit them as well as scanned images of forms received from individual polling stations under their jurisdiction through the customized software.
However, it will not eliminate the paper-based compilation of results. Instead, RTS has been designed to complement the existing paper-based record, with a hope that it will make the system more transparent and efficient.
Shafqat Mahmood, a member of the electoral reforms committee of the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf, says he is not very well aware of the RTS system and, therefore, cannot comment on it at the moment. He says the ECP has not yet held any consultation on it with anyone from his party.
Gohar says consultations had been held with political parties on the old RMS system and they will be consulted on the new system only after it is ready for use.