February, 22, 2024
Obstacles in Inmate Voting: Awareness Delays and ID Issues

Obstacles in Inmate Voting: Awareness Delays and ID Issues

Infostani International: As Pakistan gears up for elections, challenges persist in facilitating inmates to exercise their voting rights. Despite last-minute awareness drives, issues like delayed communication with prison authorities and the absence of valid ID cards pose hurdles. The complex process for postal ballot registration further complicates inmates’ ability to participate in the democratic process. This highlights the need for more proactive measures to ensure inclusivity and enable all eligible citizens, including those in prison, to vote.

Challenges Faced by Prison Inmates in Exercising Voting Rights: Issues with Awareness, Last-Minute Efforts, and CNIC Barriers

Prison authorities initiated an awareness drive shortly before the expiration of the postal ballot deadline, aiming to facilitate inmates in exercising their voting rights. However, a significant number of prisoners are still unable to vote due to delayed awareness campaigns, last-minute arrangements, and issues such as lack of valid identity cards.

Under the law, inmates can cast their votes via postal ballot by submitting a request to the relevant returning officer (RO) before the deadline. The RO verifies the request using the voting list, and eligible inmates receive envelopes to send back their votes.

Notably, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) formally communicated with jail authorities for the first time, requesting assistance in guiding inmates on the voting process. However, this interaction occurred just a week before the deadline for postal ballot applications.

The ECP reported that 449,287 individuals, including prisoners, applied for postal ballots this election. Despite this, only 145 inmates from Rawalpindi’s Adiala Jail and an undisclosed number from Karachi’s Central Jail submitted applications.

The primary obstacle preventing inmates from voting is the lack of valid CNICs, with many cards having expired. This situation leaves the majority of inmates unable to vote.

Obstacles in Inmate Voting: Awareness Delays and ID Issues
Voting rights and procedures for prisoners

Challenges Faced by Inmates in Exercising Voting Rights: Concerns Over CNIC, Complex Ballot Procedures, and the Call for Increased Awareness

During a prison visit, inmates expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of serious efforts to ensure their voting rights. Many inmates, despite being educated, face challenges in obtaining valid CNICs due to Nadra’s stringent documentation requirements.

Barrister Haya Emaan Zahid, CEO of the Legal Aid Society, highlighted the lengthy and complex procedure for filling out postal ballot forms, especially for illiterate prisoners. She suggested the need for an administrative task force and emphasized the responsibility of the jail administration in addressing these issues.

Zahid also mentioned the potential utilization of literate prisoners who have undergone paralegal courses to assist their fellow inmates in navigating the postal ballot procedure. Despite past initiatives to address CNIC-related issues, concerns persist regarding the lack of recent awareness campaigns for prisoners’ verification.

Inmate’s Unaddressed Postal Ballot Request and EU Critique: Challenges in Prison Voting Procedures

An inmate, incarcerated since 2009, shared his experience of applying for a postal ballot in 2013 without receiving a response. The 2018 European Union Election Observation Mission’s report also criticized the ECP for failing to inform entitled voters, including prisoners, about postal voting procedures.

Zahid recalled a collaboration with Nadra in 2013 to resolve CNIC-related issues and highlighted a campaign conducted between Nov 2019 and Jan 2020 that resolved over 100 out of 951 applications in two Karachi and Hyderabad prisons. However, she expressed doubts about any recent awareness campaigns for prisoners’ verification in the last six months.