Technology And Elections: Way Forward For ECP

Technology And Elections: Way Forward For ECP
Technology in elections is an evolving subject. Its use is not just limited to voting, counting, or result management but also entails other election processes, including voter registration, candidature nomination, voter education, monitoring systems, complaints redressal, etc. The discourse around the use of technology and elections in Pakistan has primarily been dominated by electronic voting machines (EVMs) and internet voting, enabling overseas Pakistanis to vote, other electoral processes also remain equally critical for the Election Commission to manage and implement efficiently and effectively. Such pressing priorities where technology can help better management and transparency seemed to be on the back burner.

The General Elections 2018 witnessed the Results Management System (RMS) fiasco, which to date, we remain oblivious as to what actually happened. Subsequently, we saw the push from the then-PTI-led government for the introduction of machines, and this obsession continued without realizing that these could potentially lead to bigger post-election disputes, endangering the process of democratic consolidation.

The gradual introduction of EVMs the way forward, and it has worked for several countries; however, using EVMs is not a silver-bullet solution to all electoral ills. For a number of other electoral processes, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is either using obsolete, outdated technology or not investing enough in updating its systems, or entirely not incorporating technology into its work. For example, voter education requires efforts by the ECP to encourage more citizens to vote or enable them to contest as candidates. Looking at just the ECP’s website exhibits the institution’s capacity or willingness to improve.

On the other hand, we have the Election Commission of Azad Jammu and Kashmir’s website, which has managed to not only improve its outlook and outreach but also post the recent local government elections results using graphics and filters enabling citizens to access, read and understand the dynamics easily. Similarly, the formation of polling stations complying with the electoral framework provisions has remained a challenge in the past, leading to issues of overcrowding on election day, or in some cases, they are not easily accessible, prompting contesting candidates to provide transport facilities, which again is prohibited by the law. However, the practice of offering transport to voters is largely still going on. The polling station buildings could be identified prior-hand using the web or mobile technologies to not only map them in accordance with the provision of the law but also ensure that essential services, such as ramps, clean drinking water, building walls, washrooms, electricity, etc., are available. For voter registration and verification, online mechanisms may be introduced for making necessary corrections, deletions, or additions to the electoral rolls rather than asking citizens to visit offices and go through the cumbrous process.

The Elections Act 2017 has enabled the Commission to constitute teams for monitoring election campaigns. Though the ECP has taken measures to establish monitoring teams, the overall framework and practical conduct of monitoring activities are still opaque. Introducing web or mobile technologies again would be useful for the Commission to deploy, manage monitoring staff, and promptly take corrective actions. Moreover, the process of election disputes may be digitized. This may also help expedite the redressal of cases, as several are still pending four-and-half years after General Elections 2018.

Different types of technology for managing various electoral processes may be adopted by the ECP to instill efficiency as well as make them more citizen-centric and easy to understand. Since the next general elections are fast approaching, essential technological advancements must be made to ensure transparency that will help build citizens’ trust and confidence in the overall system.

Updating its website, deployment of online web-based portals for monitoring and reporting, using mobile applications for establishing polling stations, oversight of the nomination process through online means, digitization of the election disputes mechanism, promptness in the announcement of results, voter education drives through social media, and digitization and presentation of analysis may be the initial steps for the ECP. Implementing these measures are feasible given the timeframe.

In the longer run, the ECP should undertake pilot tests on the use of machines as well as propose conducive mechanisms to the Parliament enabling overseas Pakistanis to vote.

The writer is a Chevening Scholar and a researcher on parliamentary and electoral affairs. He tweets at @dnananjum