Will Pakistan use EVMs for the 2007 elections?
For many million Indians, who had never switched on a light bulb in their lives, pressing an electronic voting machine button was their first contact with the 21st century – and that too at a level that would be envious for many of the most technologically advanced nations. Remember the confusion and crudeness of vote counting in the Bush-Gore elections just a few years ago. The electronic voting machines (EVMs) bring a completely new dimension, methodology, and character to the election process. Gone are the days of carefully folded ballot papers with a voter’s stamp that indistinguishably lay any where between 2 to 3 possible candidates, the indelible ink impression on your one or the other thumb, sealing, locking, opening, re-opening stuffing, re-stuffing, counting, re-counting, and transporting, storing, securing and final counting of ballot boxes – till the results matched the intended outcomes. Also gone are the days, when an election would end up consuming dozens of forests in printing of millions of ballot papers and making of thousands of ballot boxes – and imagine the exercise repeated for every new election.
One must give credit to the Indian Election Commission, for initiating the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) development project way back in 1989, in collaboration with Bharat Electronics Ltd. and Electronic Corporation of India Ltd. The Indian Electronic Voting Machine consists of two Units, a Control Unit and a Balloting Unit – joined by a five-meter cable. The Control Unit is held with the Polling Officer and the Balloting Unit is placed inside the voting compartment. Instead of issuing a ballot paper, the Polling Officer presses the Ballot Button on his Control Unit. This enables the voter to cast his vote by pressing the blue button on the Balloting Unit against the candidate and symbol of his choice. The EVM runs on an ordinary 6 volt alkaline battery, and the data is not lost even when the battery is disconnected.
The EVMs (almost a million of them) were designed and manufactured in India, except for the assembly language based micro processor chip, which was manufactured in USA and sealed at the time of import. The EVMs are not just high tech gadgets, but bring with them a host of solutions and improvements in the otherwise highly messy ad error-prone election process. The EVMs are temper-proof, provide almost instantaneous results, don’t make counting errors, are simpler to use than the traditional vote stamping process, and preclude the possibilities of multiple voting by the same person. As soon as a button on the Balloting Unit is pressed, the vote is recorded for that particular candidate and the machine gets locked. Even if one presses the button for the second time, no further vote is recorded. This way the EVMs ensure the principle of “one man, one vote”. In case of any external disturbance, or at the end of the polling day, the Polling Officers can press the “lock” button, that seals the EVM, and prevents acceptance of any further votes. The concept of false vote, dummy vote, duplicate vote or an invalid vote is thus relegated to history.
Pakistan is preparing for elections in the year 2007. Will we go through these elections in the same ancient manner? Will we use the same hollow slogans of “azadana, munsifana and gher janibdarana” , resort to same practices of election tinkering and end up with the same set of uncles and nephews? Are we not going to learn a lesson from our next door neighbour? Are we not going to challenge our failure-prone, violent and manipulative election process? Is it not obvious that having a retired chief justice as the Chief Election Commissioner, by itself does not guarantee an efficient and fool proof election mechanism? We need to challenge every step of this process, use technology to cut out human interference, make it go through scientific process improvement techniques, provide rigorous training to the concerned staff and get rid of the manual manipulations by using electronic vote counting machines. Unless we intentionally intend to retain the ancient voting system for its “obvious advantages”, we need to immediately get on with the development of modern EVMs for our next elections. The Chief Election Commissioner should take the ownership of this project, and collaborate with other concerned institutions (HEC, NADRA, MoST, industry , academia etc.) for development, manufacture, trials and training on EVMs, well before the 2007 election time. Can the Pakistani citizens look forward to pressing for the first time, a button on a Pakistan-designed and built Electronic Vote Counting Machine in the year 2007?