Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The hands that help you vote, can't rock the ballot

Urooj Zia
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Karachi: At least 100,000 eligible voters in the city were not able to cast their votes on Monday merely because they had been appointed as presiding officers, assistant presiding officers, polling officers and district returning officers (DROs) at polling stations that were far away from their home constituencies. This number also includes the 27,000 policemen and 10,000 Rangers personnel who were called up for election duty in order to maintain peace during the polling process in the city on February 18.
On Monday, approximately 3,487 polling stations had been set up in Karachi. Each polling station had, on average, four polling booths (the actual number varied between two booths to eight booths per polling station). One presiding officer, one assistant presiding officer, and two polling officers – one each for the national assembly seat and the provincial assembly seat – had been appointed at each polling booth.
All of these government officials had, however, been deputed at polling stations that were far away from the stations where they were supposed to cast their own votes. "I've been on election duty for the past 17 years," one official at a polling station for NA-253 said. "I'm always deputed to stations that are far away from my house. Our duty at the polling stations that we're deputed to starts at 08:00 a.m. and goes on beyond 05:00 p.m. [until the votes are counted and the results announced]. Polling times at the stations that we're supposed to cast our votes at are also from 08:00 a.m. to 05:00 p.m. Therefore, even though I've been working to ensure that polling goes smoothly, I myself have never been able to vote."
Similar sentiments were echoed by most polling officials deputed at other stations in the city. A female presiding officer at a polling booth in North Nazimabad told The News that she was a lecturer at a government university, and had done her best to make sure that all her students voted on February 18. On polling day, however, she herself was stuck miles away from her home constituency.
Law-enforcement officials that The News spoke to on Monday also lamented the fact that they were not able to vote. 'We've been on duty since 04:00 a.m. We wanted to vote, but can't, because we're still on duty and can't leave our posts,' a group of policemen said at around 02:00 p.m.
"The government should set up a method for proxy voting for us," one presiding officer said. "This way we'll be able to accomplish the duties assigned to us on polling day, as well as exercise our Constitutional right to vote."

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