EVMs: Panacea for fair polls?

AFTER working for over two years, the ECP appears to be all set to introduce Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) as its secretary while addressing a function in Islamabad on Wednesday announced that electronic machines will be used on trial basis in by-elections, to check efficiency and suitability of the machines before the mammoth exercise of general polls.
Demand for electronic polling surfaced soon after last elections as the opposition parties, which had concerns on election results, considered it the best way to ensure transparency in polls. Indeed, the use of these machines considerably reduces the role of human element and prevents individual voters to cast multiple votes. Moreover the electronic polling does not rely on returning and presiding officers to tally election results and this system cannot be subverted by printing truckloads of fake ballot papers. But all this does not mean the EVMs are not susceptible to fraud and in a country like ours where corruption and incompetence seem to be the norm, the potential of outright fraud is immense. This is because of certain limitations of these electronic polling, many developed countries including the US and Germany are phasing them out and returning to paper. Secondly, these machines are also very expensive. In case of Pakistan, Rs 80b would be spent on the purchase of about 36000 machines for use in the general elections. But as there is consensus amongst political parties for introduction of this system, we would urge the authorities concerned to purchase the machines while carefully examining their feasibility as well as security measures which by all means should be foolproof diminishing the chances of fraudulent activity. At the same time, what we should also be focusing more on are the fundamental systematic problems of voter coercion, vote buying etc- which of course, these machines do not defend against. We need to develop such a culture where processes are transparent, the accountability is strict and the personnel who breach the protocol are accorded strict punishment. Though difficult in our country but such a course will definitely help make election process credible.

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