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Among the electoral reform proposals recently suggested by Prime Minister Imran Khan was the introduction of electronic voting and voting machines. It is one of the ruling party’s most controversial and problematic ideas. While the Prime Minister has said the voting machines will help make elections free and fair, there are serious and legitimate concerns on both counts. This is because voting machines, as the name suggests, are machines and as such can be hacked or tampered with almost undetectably.

Most democracies avoid or have abandoned electronic voting because of these issues, along with additional privacy concerns. Many others allow them only local or “less important” elections. Developed countries like Ireland have literally cited cost as a factor in rejecting machines. The United States, one of the few countries where machines are widely used, has seen several problems arise. In some cases, the ensuing disputes made international headlines.

Some voting machines do not provide any form of paper trail, which means that there would be no way to verify whether the ballots were correctly recorded and counted. There have been cases during testing of machines incorrectly recording votes. There have also been instances where machines have failed or produced absurd numbers, forcing local officials to switch to paper voting at the last minute. Then there are the additional costs involved. Electronic voting is costly due to the costs of purchasing, maintaining and storing machines. A little computer literacy is also required for voters to use them.

It should also be noted that the machines would ideally be maintained locally. It’s for security reasons – a foreign party could rig an election, and we wouldn’t be any wiser. But even a local operator could do it. Even if we found honest operators, there would be technical issues. Remember the RTS fiasco of the 2018 election? Now imagine if this was happening across the country in every polling station all day. For what it’s worth, the Pakistan Election Commission has flagged several of these issues for years. Unfortunately, the government seems determined to follow its own path, against the advice of experts.

Posted in The Express Tribune on November 20, 2020.

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