IT experts say digital audit of votes possible in 60 days

* NADRA officials say they need one month for one NA constituency * 65 percent of fingerprints have no record against voters’ thumbs with NADRA

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan’s demands for the PM’s resignation and holding of mid-term elections have been causing tremors in the country. 
The fact of the matter has been as to whether the claim holds ground and the elections 2013 were stolen systemically. Can Imran Khan’s claims be cross-examined scientifically or technically? Daily Times investigations and background interviews over a week suggest that enough hardcore data exists in the public domain, i.e. with observers and media besides information released through election tribunals from the constituencies re-opened so far.
To examine 10 or 20 constituencies of the National Assembly as samples to determine the fairness and accuracy of the elections 2013, long and more cumbersome process will be to opt for thumb verification, a procedure ordered by the election tribunal to the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA). In this scenario, the election tribunal sends instructions to NADRA for manual verification of ballot papers using thumb impressions as the sole evidence. According to NADRA officials, its staff needs one month for one National Assembly constituency. Thus, thumb verification of 10 to 20 sample constituencies will need over a year to complete. Based on complaints by the losing candidates, 14 constituencies have been re-examined through thumb verification in several months. Interestingly, 65 percent of fingerprints on the ballot paper had no record against the voters’ thumbs with NADRA. 
Instead of waiting for over a year to ascertain the credibility and accuracy of the election process, the government officials and leading IT sector gurus suggest quick and authentic ways to scientifically audit the controversial exercise. An easier and authentic parallel option is to opt for digital audit of the Election Commission forms 14, 15, 16 and 17 of each polling station for national as well as provincial assembles. Under the option, these forms have to be scanned and studied for anomalies and inaccuracies. Moreover, thumb impression of each presiding officer has to be compared with his original thumb impression in NADRA database.
At the same time, the digital audit will require comparison of ‘the statements of counts’ of the National Assembly ballot boxes with the provincial ones at the same polling station. Manually recounting and comparing the results with the counterfoils can trace further lacunae.
Randomly examined 14 constituencies across Pakistan on the request of individual candidates and data available with observers like FAFEN suggest that massive irregularities when actual number of ballots is compared against the counterfoil. Similarly, the ‘statements of counts’ submitted through ECP forms no 14, 15, 16 and 17 by the most controversial returning officers – an official at the helm of election process at the tactical level – carry unquestionable anomalies or inaccurate reporting in so far opened 14 constituencies. An IT expert believes, “The digital audit is very much possible through NADRA in a timeframe of sixty days or two months of the entire country, national and provincial assemblies both.” General Elections 2013 can only be reopened for digital audit and other necessary probe in manual charges by a judicial commission comprising three or more judges of the Supreme Court. 
Not only the government but also politicians like Imran Khan will respect the process. Moreover, to ensure credibility of the digital audit in the light of Khan’s trust deficit, the mutually agreed judicial commission will have to appoint a competent expert as NADRA chairman through merit-based process.  The judicial commission, meanwhile, can probe printing of 9.2 million ballot papers on May 9, use of non-magnetic ink, drastic changes in polling scheme and voters’ list at the 11th hour, involvement of irrelevant but official heavy weights. For instance in one of the Punjab constituencies, the official electoral rolls as per NADRA record and the one the submitted by the returning officer had a discrepancy of some 50,000 votes. 

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