What is an error-free voter list?
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:
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.
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 The ECP process of sending its members for a door-to-door survey is outdated, resource-constrained and inefficient.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.