THE Election Commission of Pakistan finds itself in the middle of another needless controversy. The commission recently started displaying updated electoral rolls for public review a d, as is quite normal, there were some anomalies in them. Among those who were affected, some took to social media to claim that their polling stations had been moved to new locations; in some cases, quite far away from their current place of residence. Given the highly charged political environment and the PTI`s repeated claims that the ECP is biased against it, these reports were viewed by some as an attempt at `pre-poll rigging`. The controversy grew to a point where the ECP was forced to issue a public statement saying there was `no truth` to such reports and that those who were facing inconvenience should immediately reach out to the commission with their complaints.
While technology and social media have helped the citizenry grow increasingly better informed of the electoral process, they have also brought with them their own set of problems. In particular, the rapid spreading of misinformation on otherwise mundane issues has emerged as a key challenge. It appears in this case that controversy arose because the ECP decided that for all voters whose addresses, registered with the ECP for voting purposes, were other than the ones mentioned on their CNIC, their permanent address according to the CNIC would be used. The ECP says this decision had been taken in 2017 and voters were told to get their addresses updated by January 2018. They still have till June 19 to do so. However, the commission, instead of responding to the controversy by simply explaining where the confusion was arising, only made matters worse by issuing a blanket denial that it had made changes to voter registration data. Given the current climate, the ECP cannot afford to lose public trust. Clearly, there is a need for the ECP to be more transparent in its dealings with the public. It also needs to bring its practices in line with modern times. In this regard, it can benefit from close coordination with Nadra, which maintains detailed databases on citizens. It is quite unhelpful to ask affected voters to visit ECP offices in person in case they want their registration data corrected when this can easily be done online or through a phone call from a number registered against the voter`s CNIC.