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What is an error-free voter list?

Naeem Sadiq
The News , Thursday, October 11, 2012

Pakistan is rapidly heading for another electoral disaster. It continues to retain its archaic and unnecessary electoral list-making process that can do no better than what it did last time. While it ended up manufacturing 37 million fake voters in 2008, the results will not be much different this time around. There are at least four types of flaws that call for immediate attention:

  1. Based on the 1998 census, Pakistan’s current population should be around 190 million people. Fifty-one percent of our population is above 18 years. This means there are 97 million Pakistanis who are eligible to vote. The voters’ list released by the Election Commission of Pakistan shows only 84.4 million voters.

It simply means that there are 12.6 million eligible voters who are not included in the current voters’ list. Organisations such as the Free and Fair Elections Network consider the gap to be much higher.

  1. The voter list retains the names of those who are no longer alive. This number is close to two million, according to NADRA records, and 15 million according to many legislators who took up this issue in parliament.
  2. There is no easy way to estimate or correct those whose names appear in the electoral rolls but with a wrong polling address – another city or an incorrect location of the same city.
  3. Those whose names have not been included in the voters’ list despite their possession of national ID cards.

The combined effect of these four types of errors has rendered the current voter  list just as fake and futile as that of the 2008 elections.

What then is an error-free voter list?  In simple words it is a list that includes  ‘all’ and ‘only’ those people who are eligible to vote.   It has their names, ID card numbers and  correct polling addresses.   There are no duplicate names   and those who have expired are no longer on the list.

How does ECP make such an accurate voter list?  The correct answer is that the ECP  cannot, has not and will not be able to make such an accurate  list.  The ECP process of sending its members for a door-to-door survey is outdated,   resource-constrained and inefficient.  It is always a half hearted exercise and the results it produces are obvious.  NADRA has an accurate record of every  National ID card carrying  person in Pakistan.  All those who have a national ID card should automatically be considered  eligible voters.  Any further attempts to modify, manipulate or re-invent this list will only introduce more errors. There should  be no need for undertaking any further bureaucratic  actions to insist that the voters  visit ECP offices, fill  voter registration forms and submit copies of CNIC and proof of residence – usually a utility bill.  Not every one in this country can show such bills or make such effort.

So the first thing that the ECP must do is to refrain from making  any kind of voter lists and simply use the NADRA lists  as the basis for elections.  All that the ECP needs to do is to allocate a constituency to each voter.  Not counting the reserved seats there are 577  constituencies for all 4 provincial assemblies  in Pakistan.  Each  person whose name exists as a national Identity card holder can be  easily placed in the provincial constituency  (one out of 577 constituencies) that matches with the individual’s current address. This allocation would also be valid  for National Assembly (NA) voting,  as a provincial  constituency is only a subset of  a NA constituency.

This method radically simplifies and almost does away with the unending  and needless voter list preparation task undertaken by the ECP.  There is no longer a need to allocate polling stations to individual voters.   The constituency boundaries must be well defined and advertised in newspapers. Once a constituency has been allocated,  a voter should be able to vote from any polling station within  his/her allocated  constituency.  To prevent the possibility of duplicate voting,  a voter must be mandated to show his /her national ID card, which  must be  punched to ensure that it cannot be used again.

Finally the ECP needs to amend or re-interpret the Section 18 of Electoral Act, 1974, which requires that an eligible person shall apply to the ECP  for enrollment of his name.  Why can’t sending an SMS be also  considered an application to the ECP?   The ECP could  announce a phone number (say 8400) where any citizen can SMS  and inform the ECP of (1) name missed out in the list as verified by the 8300 process,  (2) incorrect constituency allocated  or (3) information about those who have expired.  Often this can be verified by asking a few specific questions on telephone,  a process   extensively used in visa card services in banks and other institutions.  In a few cases the ECP staff may also carry out physical checks for secondary verification.   Unless the ECP opens itself to newer, simpler and user-friendly electoral processes, it would not be rational to expect different results from the same recipe.