ISLAMABAD: The Trust for Democratic Education and Accountability (TDEA) launched its Technology for Efficient and Effective Elections (T3E) initiative on Thursday, where the technological experts will deliberate technical solutions for improving elections in Pakistan.
The forum reflects TDEA’s strategic initiative for engaging tech-industry leaders to optimize efficiency and transparency of electoral process—pre-requisites for enhancing public trust in the electoral system and by extension, in democracy in Pakistan.
Welcoming the guests, TDEA’s Team Lead, Mr. Rashid Chaudhry said that it is with a sense of satisfaction that this initiative reflects a growing urgency among key stakeholders, most importantly the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), civil society organizations (CSOs), and an increasing number of political parties.
He said as a leading national organization working on elections, TDEA is aware of the double-edged sword that technology can be to the health and credibility of our electoral system. “With this forum of experts, we are putting our best foot forward—with the seriousness and tact needed to see what technological solutions are best suited to situation—including questions of security, ease of understanding & access among voters and other stakeholders, economic and infrastructure development and maintenance costs to name a few,” he added.
Project Lead Sahibzada Saud informed the participants that under the initiative, an Election Tech Forum (ETF) has been established comprising 16 experts who are well versed with tech solutions, cyber security, networking and data management. The forum will deliberate and compile recommendations for adoption of the most suitable technological solutions to enhance the sanctity, integrity, transparency and accountability of the electoral system in Pakistan.
Director General, Information Technology, ECP, Mr. Muhammad Khizer Aziz said that ECP believes in the use of technology and has already taken a number of initiatives to provide easy solutions for the voters. He said the commission has started the SMS service of 8300 through which people get the information about their polling stations, and other necessary details required to cast their vote on the election-day. Similarly, they have introduced computerized electoral rolls, GIS system for polling stations, mobile app, Result Management System, Result Transmission System, electronic voting machines, biometric voting machines, among many others. He said the ECP has conducted the pilot phases of the electronic voting system, and other tech projects and presented their reports to the Parliament for their decision. He expressed the hope that the Parliament will expedite the due process and make necessary amendments to the Elections Act, 2017 so that new technology could be used in future elections.
Zafarullah Khan, a prominent Civic Education Specialist, emphasized the need for using the technology in elections while taking into account all the sociological, and cultural factors and mechanisms by which people use technology. He said the system must ensure the very sanctity of the governance mechanism and it also has to address the issue of digital inequalities to make this technology inclusive. He suggested that the digital infrastructure for online education may be dedicated for voting purposes after deliberations by our technological experts. He also talked about the sustainability of the election technology, whether it can be maintained for next five years as it has maintenance costs. He added that technology is inevitable and must be used for electoral transparency but Pakistan is a vulnerable country, and we need to take into account the risks of cyber security as well. He suggested that a catalogue on pros and cons of this technology needs to be developed. He stated that we adopt the technology but we shy away from using it. He gave the example of the National Assembly, where the electronic voting board is installed since 2008, however, it has never been used by the parliamentarians.