Digital Elections - Are they worth it?

This feature is written post elections. Many People in Pakistan were not happy with the voting turnout. The feature provides descriptive stats, research on digital elections as well as opinions and choice of people regarding Digital Election System in Pakistan.

When Adeel Ashraf went to cast his vote on May 11, he had no idea that he will have to stay at the polling station for hours, wait for his turn, so that he can vote for the party he wanted in power. 'I was happy because it was the first time I was using my right to vote, playing my role for a change!’ However, his dreams came to a halt when the usual corruption and rigging in the polls was witnessed.
Adeel is not the only one who felt powerless on May 11 there were many others including Daniyal Babar, who said, 'It's not the first time that the polls were rigged, we have witnessed it for decades'. He adds that 'If you want true democracy, then the whole electoral system needs to be changed'.

Pakistan is a democratic state; here the government is elected by the votes of its citizens. Though, due to 'no accountability scenario' that prevails in the country, rigging has become a norm. 'I take this electoral system as a joke that is why I didn't cast my vote. And you can see by the results that I took a wise decision' says Sohaib. He believes Khilafat is the system of Islam and it should be implemented in Pakistan.
In elections, Pakistani's use their right to vote by casting the vote in ballot boxes. These ballot boxes are made up of plastic and are sealed by plastic wire. The voter receives a mark on his thumb when he registers his fingerprints on the ballot paper. According to the election officer in NA 256, 'your vote doesn't count if you cast it in the wrong box'. When he was asked how secure the ballot box is as, it can be opened by anyone, he said, 'can't you see the wire? It’s sealed, it cannot be opened'. 

Mohtashim Ali, a software developer in Meritocracy Online, assumes that he has the answer for the new electoral system and its implementation 'I have been thinking about a digital system, like we see in NADRA office. It can be made using any machine language and can be operated by any computer engineer'. Mohtashim adds that he will be doing an assignment on this system in his Masters class. However, a political science student Ali thinks the opposite, 'Change in electoral system will need mass education, as most people cannot even read and write' he suggests. 
Many other computer techies think the same as Mohtashim. Daniyal a computer engineer currently doing his Masters from Aptech says ''Ruby on Rails' or any other server side computer language can be used for this procedure'. When he was asked, that can all Pakistani's literate and illiterate  use this system to cast vote? He replied 'Everyone, literate or illiterate is using mobile phones today, then why will they face difficulty in using this digital system?'
The digital Electoral system is not a new idea; in fact it is currently being used in USA, Philippines, Brazil, Bangladesh, Nepal & India. In 2010, Election Commission of Pakistan started considering digital electoral system after their visit to Bangladesh. Later, in a press conference, they said '"We are strategizing the computerization of electoral process following the course of India, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh.' - Source Geo TV. However, no practical steps for the implementation have been taken so far.
According to a topic on Pakistan defense forum, the machines that are used for Electronic voting are called Electronic Voting Machines or EVM's. They use Japanese made electronic chips that are considered secure against cyber attacks'. The post also focuses on the amount of votes that can be registered through one machine, it says 'A single machine can register 3600 votes and provides a choice to vote for a total of 64 candidates'. It should be noted that every polling station is assigned almost 2000 people in Pakistan.
However, these EVM's are also not perfect and can be hacked easily. Rahil Wazir, a Database engineer at IfraSoft says 'Database engineers can manipulate results as they have access to these machines' when he was asked why will they do that? He says, 'If you are given 100 thousand dollars just to change a string of code, wouldn't you do it?'
However, fed up by the election rigging, citizens of Pakistan feel that trying digital electoral system will not be a bad idea. According to a survey conducted online, 70% people voted in favor of a digital electoral system. Out of different digital electoral systems, they selected 'Automated system that allows voting by Smart NIC, like used in ATM machines, with fingerprint verification. Moreover, the selection included that the vote should be counted and showed immediately on the screen in the polling station and It should be connected to election network across the country'. 
When local software developers were asked if such a system can possibly be developed in Pakistan? One of them named Taimoor Jan, a freelance User Interface developer said, 'The system is easy and can be made in all machine languages'. He further added 'MVC (Model View Controller) software is the best choice for such a project, as it is hard to crack and can be made by local engineers'. While talking about hacking he said, 'every machine can be hacked but that doesn't mean it should not be used. Digital systems are no different, they are vulnerable but at the same time can minimize election rigging if strict checks are maintained'.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please do not SPAM or ABUSE in the comments. Jazak Allah