Preparing transparent and error-free electoral rolls -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Preparing transparent and error-free electoral rolls

By: Tariq Malik

Free, fair and transparent elections are the backbone of a democratic society. In a democracy, the will of the people must reign supreme irrespective of which political party comes to power. A fundamental precondition of having a free and fair election is to prepare error-free electoral rolls in strict accordance with all necessary legal provisions.

Pakistan has a long history of controversies in elections. While there were numerous reasons for this, unavailability of accurate electoral rolls facilitated many types of rigging and errors. However, as a nation that is making amends for its follies, the electoral rolls have improved progressively before each election. Now, after over a year of sustained diligence, the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) have prepared the most accurate electoral rolls in Pakistan’s history.

NADRA was assigned the task of facilitating the ECP with correct voters’ lists as the organisation hosts the world’s largest citizens’ biometric database. No other record of citizens of Pakistan is as reliable as NADRA’s database, which has registered over 90 per cent of the adult population.

The preparation of voters’ lists was divided into three modules. The legacy data from the previously compiled electoral rolls, consisting of 81.2 million votes, was transferred to NADRA by the ECP. These records were compared with NADRA’s database to verify the authenticity of each vote. The lists were cleansed of records lacking the backing of a CNIC. NADRA unearthed over 37 million unverified votes that represented almost half of the total electoral rolls of 2008. Efforts were also made to ensure removal of as many deceased voters as possible.

In the first module, initiated in May 2011, over two million household census forms containing over 24 million heads of families were digitised. These were pre-scanned for quality determination and then scanned en masse. Data-entry operators typed the records for days and nights. In order to ensure accuracy of the typed data, each form was typed twice at two different, random locations in the country. Unless there was a one-to-one match of every character in every field, the data was not transferred. In the end, two copies of the draft electoral rolls were handed over to the ECP for door-to-door verification and enumeration.

The ECP presented these lists for soliciting objections and modifications and handed over the forms to NADRA to execute phase two of the preparation of the rolls. NADRA shut down most of its regular centres and designated special sections in all headquarters for data-entry of the forms. 4,500 employees worked 24 hours a day without any holiday to prepare the preliminary electoral rolls.

Previously, the only method of checking one’s vote was to personally visit a centre where the election lists were being displayed. NADRA developed a virtual verification service whereby any citizen could verify their vote by texting their CNIC number to 8300. Over nine million people have verified their vote through this service. After the display period was exhausted and objections were received, the last phase was executed to prepare the final electoral rolls. So far, NADRA has verified over 80 million CNICs, digitised over 17.1 million forms, printed 15.1 million pages of various stages of the voters’ lists and augmented 3.6 million additional votes in the ECP data.

Today, I can claim that every single vote in Pakistan’s electoral rolls is backed by a CNIC and a fingerprint, that there are no duplicate registrations of any citizen and that no ghost vote exists and no citizen with a valid CNIC has been excluded from the electoral rolls.

The Express Tribune