evm machine in pakistan

Written by Nimra Dawood 11:49 am Pakistan, Published Content, Research Papers

E-voting in Pakistan: Introducing Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs)

The present government has put forward its proposal of e-voting through electronic voting machines (EVMs), but this proposition is fraught with uncertainties, given political deadlocks and transparency issues The author, Nimra Dawood, discusses and analyzes the wrangles over the introduction of EVMs in Pakistan for the 2023 elections, particularly the incompatibility of the EVMs with the 2017 Election Act.
About the Author(s)
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Nimra Dawood is an undergraduate student, pursuing a degree in international relations from National Defence University, Islamabad. She is interested in current affairs, geopolitical trends, regional political dynamics, and power transition in the international arena. She loves to critically analyze the changing dynamics of the world and the motives of key actors.

Background

The main reason for introducing an electronic voting machine (EVM) is because the general perception is that no election except for the one held in the 1970s (that resulted in the separation of East Pakistan) was ever free and fair. This perception is also accepted by the General Secretary, Sarwar Bari, of the Free and Fair Election Network (Fafen).1

The rigging and manipulation of elections in Pakistan occur at various levels where many stakeholders and actors are directly or indirectly involved. Allegations of malpractices before and after the elections on several state institutions, military establishments, polling officers, political parties, and their candidates are very common.2

The government of Pakistan under the leadership of Imran Khan is working on electoral reforms in the country which they claim cannot only reduce the chances of polling-day rigging but also post-poll rigging.3 In addition to this, it was also said earlier that the government was planning to launch a nationwide census before the election of 2023 so that manipulation related to census and gerrymandering can be controlled and minimized in the upcoming elections.4

Recently, the government announced a very extensive plan of electoral reforms just two years before the next general election.5 The main aim of these reforms is to eliminate the chances of rigging throughout the process of election; to ensure the proper right to vote is being utilized by the citizens and to increase the level of trust and confidence of the general public like the electoral structure, the government in particular and democracy in general.6

The bill comprising 49 sections that are either introduced, deleted, or amended in the Election Act of 2017 was unanimously passed7 through the lower house without any resistance but has faced fierce opposition by the Senate Standing Committee, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), and the experts of this field due to technical, social, economic and political reasons.

Major Objectives

Out of all the changes suggested by the government, the following are the two main objectives on which the government has stood strong and is not willing to give up, even when ECP (the actual authority in this matter) has presented 29 reservations on the proposed changes in the electoral process.8

  1. Electronic voting

Section 103 of the Election Act of 2017 would be amended to incorporate the use of the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) in the general elections in Pakistan.9

2. Internet voting for Overseas Pakistanis

Section 94 of the Election Act 2017 would be amended to extend the right of vote to overseas Pakistanis which has been demanded for a long time. The idea is that if these Pakistanis can send millions in remittances they can then have a voice in the selection of the leadership of Pakistan.10

Other Proposed Changes

  1.  A provision in Section 15 of the Election Act 2017 will give the right of challenging the appointment of polling agents or officers in case of any reservations within 15 days of his appointment.11
  2. Elimination of delimitation exercise based upon population and instead a NADRA registered voter’s list would be used.12
  3. Open balloting in the Senate and giving the right of contesting to overseas Pakistanis.13
  4. Making it mandatory for the legislator-elect to take oath within 60 days of his election.14

The Electronic Voting Machine (EVM)

The definition of electronic voting, in general, is quite broad. However, in this paper, the focus is on the electronic system which is used for recording, casting, and counting votes in political elections and referendums.15 The Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) comprises two units, one is the controlling unit which is under the supervision of the election officer, while the other one is the balloting unit used by the voter to cast vote.

After the identification of the voter by the officer, he would be given the green signal to go to the balloting unit where he would press the button for the respective candidate after which a Voter Verifiable Paper Trail (VVPT) would be automatically generated by the connected printer to ensure that the process had been smooth without any error. The voter would then put this printed ballot into the ballot box and the process would repeat for other voters.16

Strengths of E-voting

  • Faster vote count and tabulation
  • More accurate results as human error is excluded
  • Efficient handling of complicated electoral systems formulae requires huge efforts for counting
  • Improved presentation of complicated ballot papers and reduced size that will be easier to store
  • Increased convenience for voters
  • Almost complete elimination of invalid ballots which currently make up 2.69% of the national votes cast on Election Day17
  • Potentially increased chances of voters’ turnout18
  • A better option for the increasingly digitalized society along with elderly and disabled persons
  • Prevention of fraud and rigging by decreasing the level of human intervention and problems related to official stamps
  • Potential long-term cost savings in poll worker time, cost for production, and distribution of ballot paper

Weaknesses of E-Voting

  • Lack of transparency
  • Limited openness and understanding of the system for the general public
  • Lack of agreed standards for e-voting systems
  • No standard certification is widely agreed upon
  • Risk of manipulation by insiders with the help of experts or through hackers
  • Possibility of manipulation by a small number of people in shorter time19
  • Huge investment both in terms of purchasing and maintenance of the electronic voting system
  • Increased requirement of infrastructure and environmental conditions like temperature and humidity etcetera20
  • Increased security for the protection of voting systems and transportation and storage purposes
  • Reduced level of control by the election administration because of technological dependence
  • Investment in voter’s education campaigns
  • Potential conflict with the legal framework and overlapping authority of institutions
  • Reduced level of public trust due to the weaknesses mentioned above

E-voting under Controlled vs. Uncontrolled Environment

E-voting in a controlled environment happens when the process of voting takes place under the supervision of the Election Management Body (ECP, in the case of Pakistan) which means that the officials would still have enough power to influence the environment, procedures, and conditions under which the ballots are being cast. Therefore, this type of electronic voting is considered equivalent to the traditional paper ballot casting method.

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On the other hand, in case of an uncontrolled environment, the vote would be cast without any supervision through a mobile phone, personal space, or any other convenient means for the voter. The concerns of vote-buying, intimidation, family voting, loss of voting day ritual, secrecy, and technical separation of voter’s identity from the casted ballot are still not resolved by any given internet voting system.21

Hence, the system of electronic voting in Pakistan according to the proposed reforms would be in a controlled environment, whereas the right to vote extended to the overseas Pakistanis would come under the condition of an uncontrolled environment.

Although both types of voting may have several advantages and disadvantages, the case of internet voting under an unmonitored environment goes completely against the clauses of the Election Act of 2017, which was explicitly mentioned by the ECP along with 28 other reservations regarding the electoral reforms.

E-voting With and Without the Physical Evidence of the Vote Cast

There is an inbuilt printer that provides physical proof to the voter about the vote that is being cast. This receipt is commonly known as the voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT). By manually counting these receipts, the results from the electronic system can be verified and can also be used to conduct a sample test from randomly chosen polling stations.

However, this can only happen in the voting conducted in a controlled environment under the supervision of the Electoral Management Body (ECP) because internet voting would provide no such evidence.

The important point here is that the very procedure of recounting the votes manually after conducting the results through electronic voting would undermine the time effectiveness and cost-effectiveness that was desired by the system.

Also, this can invoke human intervention that can not only slow the process but could open avenues for mistakes and discrepancies. On the other hand, the Ministry of Science and Technology (MoST) considers it an important step to gain the trust of the opposition, the ECP, and the public.

The inbuilt printer that is being used in the electronic voting machine (EVM) of Pakistan uses thermal energy to print on a quality of paper that has a life of up to five years, making it available for any allegations of fraud or rigging.22

An EVM Developed Domestically or Internationally?

According to the Minister of Science and Technology, Shibli Faraz, the domestically developed EVMs with the help of NUST, COMSATS, and NEI would cost approximately Rs.65, 000 per unit, which he claims would be half of the amount needed for importing an electronic voting system from another country that will have no guarantee of working properly under the circumstances faced by Pakistan.

An electronic voting machine (EVM) developed in Pakistan can operate on a battery that can run up to 2 straight days, safe from cyber-attacks “because it is neither connected with internet nor Wi-Fi” and can operate in areas with temperatures ranging from below 10 degrees to the levels of mercury touching above 55 degrees in centigrade scale.23

However, officials from the concerned departments have suggested that the cost of production can be approximate Rs.25 billion (if polls are held on a single day) with the exclusion of the cost of transportation, security, and annual maintenance.24

However, keeping the statistics presented in 2019 by the “India Today”25 in mind, the cost of M2 EVMs was 8670 Indian Rupees (the equivalent of 18,697 Pakistani rupees), while the cost of M3 EVMs per unit is tentatively fixed at about 17,000 Indian Rupees in 2019 (that is equivalent to 36,642 Pakistani Rupees) which is still very less than the tentative figures given by the MoST.

Also, domestic production of such a machine can only be effective when a huge amount of machines are being produced at a substantive pace or else problems like a last-minute crash or system errors are very common for an unfamiliar staff.

One rationale behind domestic production can be the idea of investment in the domestic economy which can be made more efficient by involving other experienced firms around the globe to incorporate the lessons they have learnt throughout the process of evolution of the electronic voting system.

Assessment of Overall Goals and Foundations in a Global Perspective

Trust in Election Administration and Overall Electoral Structure

The option of adopting e-voting is very beneficial in areas that do not trust the election administration because of the widespread fraud and manipulation of the polling station. By introducing an electronic voting machine (EVM) in Pakistan, the responsibility of the entire process will be placed on the central election administration and away from the local polling station. This can only bring trust back among the voters if the central authority has a high level of trust and confidence among the public.

According to Electoral Management Design: The International IDEA Handbook, the guiding principle of trust for Election Management Bodies include independence, impartiality, integrity, transparency, efficiency, and professionalism.26 Otherwise, the situation can be similar to that of Bahrain where the government had to return to paper voting in 2006 just a few days before the Election Day due to common perception of rigging and socio-political resistance.27

Political Consensus and Inclusion

The basic purpose of introducing e-voting through an electronic voting machine (EVM) is to stop the legacy of calling every election rigged in Pakistan. However, if the process of implementing legislative changes and introducing electoral reforms is without political consensus and trust for the new system among the stakeholders then this would even worsen the situation, creating conditions of anarchy or maybe an end to the democratic governments in the country.

The opposition by the stakeholders for e-voting can be due to several reasons, sometimes politically motivated but other times based upon genuine concerns and technical issues that need attention and negotiations at all fora. Especially when others involved would consider the process as favoring a particular political party or an investment that is not required at a given time based upon a mere cost-benefit analysis.

Currently, one factor that the opposition uses is the inflation rate and persistent devaluation of currency due to Covid-19 and other factors that do not allow the government to bring such radical reforms.28

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Transparency and Security

For ensuring transparency and security of the voting procedure and voters it is very important to bring changes and reforms keeping in view the socio-political environment of the country. This requires a great degree of trust and agreement about the need for the technological factor into the system.

Also, it needs a credible and widely publicized mechanism for preventing manipulation by outsiders and the insiders that are operating the system. One way of doing this is by the generation of ballot receipt which played an important role in the evolution of voting machines in America from 2002 Help American Vote Act29 with investments in machines without a paper trail to the use of paper trail used by 40 states in 2010.30

As elections in our country have been held for years with paper balloting, the introduction of e-voting would need some changes in the legal framework. The change in the modes and means of conducting the elections may result in an overlap of the authorities of some state institutions which is beyond the legal mandate of the ECP to resolve.

As per the plan of the PTI government, the legal mandate of ECP and NADRA are overlapping at many points that can result in institutional deadlock and rift.31 Similarly, the introduction of e-voting must not undermine the basic requirement of holding elections and the rights granted to the citizens of Pakistan such as the right of universal, equal, free, direct, and secret suffrage.

According to Fafen, the right of procurement of machines and type of technology rests with the ECP and any new thing introduced into the electoral system must fully respond to the existing provisions of the Election Act of 2017 especially its Sections 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90.32

Hurdles in Implementing E-voting

Time Constraints

With only a couple of years left until the general elections of 2023, the government has started a new initiative of modernizing the electoral system which, for mere electoral ends, would not be enough to change things at the grassroots level. Limited time would not allow the effective and needed talks and negotiations among the various actors. Countries like UK and India have also implemented e-voting in a stepwise manner to build up the levels of trust needed by the general public.33

Political Deadlock

PM Imran Khan and his cabinet appear to be persistent when it comes to the use of e-voting and i-voting for the upcoming elections.34 They not only consider it crucial for the sustenance of the democratic structure of Pakistan but also use it to curb their opponents by calling them fraudulent riggers that were benefitting from the loopholes in the existing system.

Bills related to the electoral reforms are facing a deadlock in the upper house where both government and opposition are using blame game and are standing firm on their points.35

Lack of Stakeholder Consultation

The fact is that the authority of bringing changes into the electoral system lies on the shoulders of ECP. When the government gives a green signal to the use of e-voting in the general elections of 2023, ignoring the reservations and problems identified in the proposal by the ECP, this creates confusion and disrespect for the state institutions.36

The authority lies in the hand of the ECP, which must organize sessions among the various stakeholders and identify problems, implementation methods, and possible solutions for the electoral reforms of the country.

The legal methods of bringing about a change in the system are always time-consuming and need effort. This also needs proper time and consultation with the required authorities.37 Currently, these factors are missing out in the process being utilized by the government.

Cost of Change

The production and logistic costs of an electronic voting machine (EVM) must be thoroughly studied and calculated for doing the cost-benefit analysis and checking out the rationality behind the introduction of such machines in Pakistan.38 Currently, the government is facing a crunch due to external as well as internal factors. Covid-19 has led to overall high prices of daily use commodities which may be a good reason for not implementing the plan of using e-voting in the upcoming election.

Societal Concerns/Lack of Education

The literate population of Pakistan is 58%.39 This means a lot of people would never understand why such technological changes are being brought by the government, but due to the universal suffrage of vote, these 42% people have a right to use their votes to decide the future of the country, making it a very demanding task for the government and concerned authorities to educate these masses.40

Similarly, the educated masses would also question the rationale behind such radical changes which require a proper mechanism of communicating to the masses and eliminating the confusion that they face.

Recommendations

  1. The goals for the use of e-voting must be put forward because such will make it easier to evaluate the alternatives and to explain the rationale to the masses.
  2. The use of EVMs should be in a step-wise manner. Initially, like other democracies, it should be introduced in a local government election.
  3. The legal changes needed for the use of technological devices in elections must be enabled urgently and neatly.
  4. After the successful implementation of e-voting at a local level, ECP should invite all the stakeholders to decide the next step, to ensure political consensus, and to avoid deadlocks.
  5. It should be realized that such reforms and changes need time for implementation.
  6. Until full work on the implementation of e-voting is not done, ways must be considered to improve the existing paper-balloting.
  7. The development of EVMs should be in collaboration with international developers so that any technical facet does not remain unnoticed. Also, the system utilized in the elections of Pakistan should be built keeping political, social, cultural, and economic conditions in mind.
  8. Encouragement of tech institutes in R&D should be increased.
  9. As the use of a new method can result in various outcomes, there should be complete support of all the stakeholders involved in this process.
  10. Proper professionals and trainers should be prepared to educate the masses.
  11. An important confidence-building measure would be to have transparent certification and auditing, allowing stakeholders’ access to procedures and documentation.

Endnotes

[1] Ebad Pasha, “Election Rigging 101: How to Steal a Mandate,” Dawn, last modified July 19, 2018, https://www.dawn.com/news/1416841.

[2] Ibid.

[3] “President Alvi Underscores Importance of E-voting for Electoral Reforms in Pakistan,” Geo.tv: Latest News Breaking Pakistan, World, Live Videos, last modified May 5, 2021, https://www.geo.tv/latest/348904-exclusive-president-alvi-to-underscore-importance-of-e-voting-in-interview.

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[4] Aamir S. Khan, “2023 Polls to Be Held As Per New Census: Asad,” DAWN.COM, last modified September 12, 2021, https://www.dawn.com/news/1645892.

[5]  Dawn.com, “Govt Proposes Extensive Electoral Reforms to Ensure Transparency in Future Elections,” DAWN.COM, last modified May 3, 2021, https://www.dawn.com/news/1621800.

[6] Ibid.

[7]“Govt Unveils 49-point Electoral Reforms,” The Express Tribune, last modified May 3, 2021, https://tribune.com.pk/story/2298025/govt-unveils-49-point-electoral-reforms.

[8]“ECP Expresses Reservations About Electronic Voting Machines,” The News International: Latest News Breaking, Pakistan News, last modified August 29, 2021, https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/884981-ecp-expresses-reservations-about-electronic-voting-machines.

[9] “Govt to Introduce Major Vote Reforms,” The Express Tribune, last modified May 2, 2021, https://tribune.com.pk/story/2297962/govt-to-introduce-major-vote-reforms.

[10] Ibid.

[11]  Dawn.com, “Govt Proposes Extensive Electoral Reforms to Ensure Transparency in Future Elections,” DAWN.COM, last modified May 3, 2021, https://www.dawn.com/news/1621800.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid

[15] “Introducing Electronic Voting: Essential Considerations,” International IDEA, accessed October 10, 2021, .

[16] “President Alvi Underscores Importance of E-voting for Electoral Reforms in Pakistan,” Geo.tv: Latest News Breaking Pakistan, World, Live Videos, last modified May 5, 2021, https://www.geo.tv/latest/348904-exclusive-president-alvi-to-underscore-importance-of-e-voting-in-interview.

[17] ACE Electoral Knowledge Network —, accessed October 10, 2021, https://aceproject.org/ero-en/regions/asia/PK/pakistan-final-report-of-the-committee-on-the-use.

[18] Shamika Ravi, “How Electronic Voting Machines Have Improved India’s Democracy,” Brookings, last modified December 5, 2019, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/techtank/2019/12/06/how-electronic-voting-machines-have-improved-indias-democracy/.

[19] “Electronic Voting – Arguments Against,” Stanford Computer Science, accessed October 10, 2021, https://cs.stanford.edu/people/eroberts/cs201/projects/2006-07/electronic-voting/index_files/page0002.html.

[20] ACE Electoral Knowledge Network —, accessed October 10, 2021, https://aceproject.org/ero-en/regions/asia/PK/pakistan-final-report-of-the-committee-on-the-use.

[21] Corte Interamericana De Derechos Humanos – Inicio, accessed October 10, 2021, https://www.corteidh.or.cr/tablas/28047.pdf.

[22] “Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs),” IFES | The International Foundation for Electoral Systems, accessed October 10, 2021,

[23] Jamal Shahid, “350,000 EVMs to Be Made in Six Months: Minister,” DAWN.COM, last modified July 7, 2021, https://www.dawn.com/news/1633603.

[24] “EVMs to Cost Rs25b if Polls Held in Single Day,” The Express Tribune, last modified May 24, 2021, https://tribune.com.pk/story/2301258/evms-to-cost-rs25b-if-polls-held-in-single-day.

[25] “All About Functions, Cost, Efficacy of Electronic Voting Machines,” The News International: Latest News Breaking, Pakistan News, last modified March 18, 2021, https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/806176-all-about-functions-cost-efficacy-of-electronic-voting-machines.

[26] “Electoral Management Design: Revised Edition,” International IDEA, accessed October 10, 2021, .

[27] “Strong Showing for Opposition Party in Bahrain Elections (Published 2006),” The New York Times – Breaking News, US News, World News and Videos, last modified November 27, 2006, https://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/27/world/middleeast/27bahrain.html.

[28] Afshan Subohi, “The Economy of EVMs,” DAWN.COM, last modified September 20, 2021, https://www.dawn.com/news/1647381/the-economy-of-evms

[29] “H.R.3295 – 107th Congress (2001-2002): Help America Vote Act of 2002,” Congress.gov | Library of Congress, last modified October 29, 2002, https://www.congress.gov/bill/107th-congress/house-bill/3295.

[30] “Voting Methods and Equipment by State,” Ballotpedia, accessed October 10, 2021, https://ballotpedia.org/Voting_methods_and_equipment_by_state.

[31] Idrees Khawaja, “Nadra Vs ECP,” DAWN.COM, last modified August 28, 2021, https://www.dawn.com/news/1643077.

[32] “FAFEN Identifies Legal Inadequacies in Amendment Bill on EVMs and Overseas Voting,” Free and Fair Election Network, last modified September 11, 2021, https://fafen.org/fafen-identifies-legal-inadequacies-in-amendment-bill-on-evms-and-overseas-voting/.

[33]  “EVMs: How Democracies Went About E-voting,” The News International: Latest News Breaking, Pakistan News, last modified August 10, 2021, https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/876102-evms-how-democracies-went-about-e-voting.

[34] The Newspaper’s Staff Reporter, “PM Imran Insists on Use of EVMs in Next Polls,” DAWN.COM, last modified October 8, 2021, https://www.dawn.com/news/1650754.

[35] “Key Clauses of Electoral Reforms Bill Rejected,” The Express Tribune, last modified September 10, 2021, https://tribune.com.pk/story/2319515/senate-body-rejects-use-of-evms-i-voting-in-next-elections.

[36]  “Stakeholders Rejection of EVM: Govt’s Task to Introduce Equipment Becomes Tough,” The News International: Latest News Breaking, Pakistan News, last modified September 9, 2021, https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/889945-stakeholders-rejection-of-evm-govt-s-task-to-introduce-equipment-becomes-tough.

[37] Akhtar, Syed Afzal, The Issue of E.V.M. (June 21, 2021). Available at SSRN: https://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3871197

[38] “Debating the EVM,” The News International: Latest News Breaking, Pakistan News, last modified May 22, 2021, https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/838241-debating-the-evm.

[39] “Literacy Rate,” The Nation, last modified August 3, 2020, https://nation.com.pk/04-Aug-2020/literacy-rate.

[40]  “Education,” UNICEF, accessed October 10, 2021, https://www.unicef.org/pakistan/education.

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