Friday, January 3, 2014

Pakistan and NADRA, in the road to better elections

With over 180 million people calling it home, Pakistan is the sixth most populated country in the world and it is the second largest Muslim democracy after Indonesia. Given such proportions, running an election for the national assembly and for its four provincial assemblies is quite the daunting task. That’s one of the main reasons Pakistan is advancing the adoption of voting technology.

Just to give an example, the most recent general election, held in May 2013 saw over 86 million registered voters cast a vote. The election was held in 272 constituencies, making for a quite the logistical challenge for NADRA (National Database and Registration Authority), the autonomous and independent institution of the Pakistani government responsible for databases and sensitive registration information.

In order for Pakistan to continue improving the quality of future elections, NADRA is slowly introducing what it calls a “foolproof” e-voting machine system. This system is designed to “control rigging in the polls.” by authenticating voters via biometrics.

The identity of the voter is automatically verified biometrically before the voter has the opportunity to cast a ballot. The system is still a work in progress and will require further refinement, but NADRA’s, Chairman Tariq Malik, says that this will prevent any “bogus voting”. The sentiment is echoed by Muhammad Daheem of the Frontier Post who writes that the new system will “eliminate the element of fake vote casting and rigging of any type in elections.”

Biometric authentication of voters is the most reliable methodology to guarantee that voter impersonation becomes a thing of the past. Technologies like the one being developed in Pakistan approach these challenges head-on, providing a “foolproof” system that verifies the identity of voters.

Under the proposal, the refined thumb impression verifying e-voting machine would be placed at all polling stations across the country of Pakistan.

A key element in this system is the voter identification card, which is then checked against the fingerprints of voters as stored in the NADRA biometric database. Following verification through the Voter Identification Unit, the voter then proceeds to the Vote Casting Unit where the relevant constituency and list of candidates is displayed. Finally, the Result Management Unit can record and tally the votes accordingly. The computer-generated report can then be reconciled against the manual counting of printed ballots as needed.