News Analysis |
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has issued a much-awaited voting schedule for the overseas Pakistani voters ahead of October 14 by-elections in the country. The by-elections will take place on 11 National Assembly seats and 26 provincial assemblies’ constituencies. The breakup of the provinces shows that elections will be held in Punjab on 13-seats. In KP, 9-seats are up for grabs.
In Sindh and Baluchistan, by polls will take place on two constituencies each. These seats have become vacant due to death, the resignation of the candidates and postponement of the elections. According to the schedule announced by the ECP, Overseas Pakistanis will be able to register themselves on the ECP’s website from September 1 to 15.
The finding of the IT experts depicts that internet voting is controversial and attacks can be launched with the moderate technical ability and can easily be automated to manipulate votes at a large scale.
Moreover, ECP has informed the foreign ministry to speak with the foreign missions across the world, to make them aware of the new development. ECP has uploaded the Overseas voting video tutorials [both in English and Urdu] to help the overseas Pakistanis understand the registration process for the voting purposes. In another video, the voting procedure is explained. Moreover, the rules for the overseas voting have also been described.
Findings of the iVOTE Assessment Report 2018
ECP has also uploaded the 31-page, finding and assessment report of internet voting task force on voting rights of overseas Pakistanis. This document deals with the assessment of the concerns pertaining to the potential security issues posed by the deployment of this system. Since, the IT experts had raised the issue in the presence of Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice Saqib Nisar in the Supreme Court of Pakistan, politicians, concerned citizens, and members of the media, the Election Commission of Pakistan constituted a Task Force (Internet Voting Task Force, IVTF) on April 19, 2018, to undertake a technical audit of the iVOTE platform.
According to the report, iVOTE, if deployed in the forthcoming General Elections, will cater to an estimated more than 6 million overseas voters, and will be the largest ever deployment of Internet voting in the world by far. Before this, 280,000 people voted in the state election in New South Wales, Australia. Overall, these systems are avoided and discouraged in the developed world because of devastating attacks on such vulnerable systems—which were previously seen in the US, Estonia, and Australia.
The breakup of the provinces shows that elections will be held in Punjab on 13-seats. In KP, 9-seats are up for grabs. In Sindh and Baluchistan, by polls will take place on two constituencies each.
The expert findings show that “iVOTE categorically does not provide ballot secrecy as required in Clause 94 of the Elections Act 2017 and Article 226 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.” Vote coercion, attacks with moderate technical ability can manipulate votes at large scale, misleading/fake emails can misguide and mislead the potential voters, and Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks are a persistent threat on the Internet. There remain certain threats such as data transfer to the third party.
In the proposed system, computer literacy is a necessary requirement. Overseas voters will have to register on the website created especially for voting, using a verified email address. Every individual will have to give answers to some secret questions. And voter will be sent a passcode to vote only a few hours prior to voting begins, to kick-start the voting process. The committee recommended unanimously that deploying Internet voting for overseas Pakistanis in the General Elections of 2018 would be a hasty step with grave consequences and ECP should seek a long-term policy to facilitate overseas voters.
Disaster Bigger than the RTS in Waiting?
Only those Pakistanis residing abroad with a machine-readable passport (MRP) and a National Identity Card for Overseas Pakistanis (NICOP) will be eligible for registration and among the 1 crore Pakistanis which reside abroad, 5.8 million people have National Identity Card for Overseas Pakistan (NICOP), which makes them qualified to vote.
iVOTE, if deployed in the forthcoming General Elections, will cater to an estimated more than 6 million overseas voters, and will be the largest ever deployment of Internet voting in the world by far.
IT experts believe that major threat will persist if ECP goes ahead with the designed software. After the RTS debacle, another scandal cannot be ruled out. In the past other countries which introduced such programs faced pertinent threats from hackers.
It’s unbelievable that on the earlier assessment and evidence presented, CJP had accepted that expert opinion was needed to reach the final conclusion on the matter. But, on August 17, in a landmark decision, apex court allowed the overseas Pakistanis to vote in by-elections through iVOTE.
PPP and PML-N have voiced concerns against the inclusion of overseas voters. But, ruling PTI welcomed the move. It has always maintained that overseas diaspora largely supports it. But, any cyber-attack and manipulation can even trigger an unfavorable result.
ECP has planned to do some pilot tests to avoid the repeat of RTS disaster. The finding of the IT experts depicts that internet voting is controversial and attacks can be launched with the moderate technical ability and can easily be automated to manipulate votes at a large scale. If tampered from outside, October 14, by-elections would be even more scandalous than the July 25 general elections.