ISLAMABAD - It will cost over Rs 80 billion to go for electronic poll in general elections as Pakistan will need 360,000 Electronic Voting Machines or EVMs to hold general elections.

And certainly nobody but Finance Minister Ishaq Dar can provide the huge funds for purchase of the machines. Dar also heads Electoral Reforms Committee.

Documents prepared by Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for inviting international vendors for providing the EVMs, suggest that as many as 360,000 machines will be required for country-wide polling stations.

Though the ECP will initially float tenders in international market for 400 EVMs for pilot project, it will need tens of thousands of modern technology for general elections. Each EVM in international market ranges from 200 US dollars to 4,000 US dollars.

As a pilot project, the bidders will hold mock polls on 350 polling stations using the EVMs. The terms of reference (ToR) prepared by the ECP said that vendors will provide a complete solution that include hardware and software, testing, delivering and other necessary support to conduct successful pilot project.

It is to be mentioned here that the sub-committee on electoral reforms has already given green signal to ECP for floating international tenders for the 400 EVMs. According to officials, the tenders will be floated this week.

The vendors shall have the collective expertise in the field of information technology, training, support center operation and management, and preferably electronic voting implementation and management.

The project manager shall be a certified Project Management Professional (PMP), the ToRs say.

The government departments that shortlisted specifications for the EVMs are Nadra, ECP and Ministry of Information Technology. The EVM will display Urdu on screens giving all options to voters for casting vote in an election.

“Each candidate/party should be listed in Urdu language along with a party symbol on the ballot. Time for average vote cast for two parallel election contests on one EVM should be less than a minute,” it said.

But the ECP has sought the machines to be in custody of security personnel for protecting the EVMs from being stolen as data configuration of each EVM with its corresponding polling station shall be loaded in a secured and enclosed air-conditioned area.

The ECP seeks bidders that could provide the EVMs that have internal source of power and should have minimum 12-hour continuous usage. External source of power should remain an option as a backup.

The EVM should be compact, robust, sturdy, rugged and easy to use and maintain. Besides, the machines should be in a container that should be dust, fire and water-proof. Each EVM should be able to cope with wide range of temperature)-10 to +50 degree Celsius.

“With these features, I fear a single EVM would cost 4000 US dollars. It will jack up the total cost to Rs160 billion. But we are searching for the machine that costs us 2000 US dollars,” a senior ECP official said.

The ECP will invite only those bidders who would provide EVMs in which every activity will be logged and stored for internal audit trail. If any unathorised person would try to open EVM, it will give ‘Error’ or ‘dump’.

After pressing voting button for casting vote to any particular candidate, the EVM will give loud beep, light flash and a paper audit trail with LCD screen displaying the symbol for which the voter pressed the button and cast vote.

The successful vendor will be required to provide turnkey solution that includes manufacturing, software development, testing, delivery, configuration, deployment at polling stations and training of polling staff.