Supreme Court of Pakistan recently called a briefing where National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) presented the online voting system for overseas Pakistanis. Chief Justice Saqib Nisar led a three-member bench to resume the hearing of a case referring to the voting rights of overseas Pakistanis. The hearing was attended by the officials of Election Commission of Pakistan, parliamentarians, representatives of political parties and faculty experts from reputable universities of Pakistan.
How does the proposed e-voting system work?
The online system has been integrated with the web portals of ECP and NADRA. To cast a vote, an overseas Pakistani who wishes to use the system must have a National Identity Card for Overseas Pakistanis (NICOP), a machine-readable passport and a valid email address to register on the website. The eligibility of the voter will be verified by the 13-digit NICOP number, its issuance date, tracking number and passport number of the machine-readable passport. After the validation of eligibility, the identity of the voter will be confirmed if they answer two verification questions asked by the system.
After the registration, the voter will be delisted from its home constituency in Pakistan. The system will release a voting pass to the voters’ email. On the day of elections, the voter can use the pass to caste the vote to the candidate of their choice from National Assembly or Provincial Assembly. After the voting time has elapsed, ECP will enable the reporting portal of the system through which returning officers will be able to view the results.
The concern of apex court and IT experts.
IT experts present in the briefing criticized the security of the e-voting software prepared by NADRA. Taha Ali from NUST expressed his concerns over the voting software,
“It’s not difficult to hack an e-voting system. Even if it is not hacked, stealing data is not a big deal. Different countries, including the United States, Australia and Norway, tried such software only to withdrew them later.”
Justice Nisar suggested testing the online system through mock polls. He also directed ECP to involve technical experts to identify discrepancies in NADRA’s experimental e-voting software. If an iota of doubt is found in NADRA’s proposed system then the apex court will order against the use of this method.
Over 70% of overseas Pakistanis are labourers in Gulf Countries with no access to internet raising the concern of maintaining secrecy. Attorney General Ashtar Ausaf urged that authorities need to ensure that the voting process is kept secret.
NADRA’s Chairman revealed that PKR 150 million was spent to develop a voting system that will benefit over eight million overseas Pakistanis. A cost deemed insignificant by Justice Nisar for the benefit it will be providing. The hearing will continue this week to assess the feasibility of the e-voting system for the upcoming elections of Pakistan.