Some polling officials of Dhaka city election blamed lack of publicity for the poor attendance
Teachers were sitting on student benches and chitchatting in the classroom in a relaxed mood.
At 1:30PM, one of them came out and said to her colleague, "Apa [sister], we have got one voter". The colleague replied, "Congratulation!"
The teachers were there to run a mock voting event using Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) at the Siddheswari Girls College polling station in the capital on Thursday.
The Election Commission (EC) held mock voting at 2,468 polling stations two days before February 1, the day of the Dhaka City Corporation election.
Equipped with around thirty thousand EVMs, the EC arranged mock voting to show voters how to cast their vote digitally. The EC has spent around Tk4,000 crore for the EVM project.
The day rolled on, but there was little enthusiasm from the voters' end, particularly the female ones. Some polling officials blamed the lack of publicity for the poor attendance.
The Ideal College polling station under Dhaka South City Corporation was designated for 5,148 voters. But from 12 noon to 7:00pm, only seven male and four female voters participated, said Pranab Nath, presiding officer of the center.
One of the visiting voters was Jalal Uddin Khan, who found the use of the EVM quite easy. "It takes less time than manual balloting," he said.
Only three voters appeared at the Tejgaon High School polling station in Dhaka North City out of 3229 till 1:45PM.
And only one male voter turned up to see the use of the EVM at the Siddheswari Girls College polling station till 1:30 pm, but he was there mainly to attend Sarashwati Puja. This polling station was designated for 4708 voters.
Shamsun Nahar, a polling officer said, "The poor attendance of voters is disappointing. At least the contestants could have come with their supporters."
A number of polling officials, preferring to be anonymous, observed that voters have lost interest in elections.
Women mostly avoid mock voting
None of the 6814 female voters under the Moneshwar Government Primary School polling station came for mock voting till 1:00pm.
There are 1696 female voters under the Tejgaon Girls High School polling station, but only one of them came there till 2:15pm.
A polling official, preferred to be anonymous, said, "We witnessed a similar scenario on January 28, during a demonstration of EVM use in the centre. I called one of my colleagues at once over the phone to ask her to participate."
Polling officials at the Rajdhani High School polling station could show only three out of 2207 female voters the use of an EVM till 1:30PM. Assistant presiding officer Tahmina Sultana said the three female voters came here mainly to attend Sarashwati Puja.
The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has demanded scrapping the use of EVMs in the city corporation election, claiming that the election result can be manipulated through the machine. Several other political parties, including the Communist Party of Bangladesh, have also expressed concern over the use of EVMs.
However, the ruling Awami League is in favour of it.
EC officials have confirmed that EVMs will be used in the city corporation elections.
On Tuesday, the EC's Senior Secretary Md Alamgir told journalists that there is no scope to manipulate election results through EVMs.
Expert opinion of election observers
Representatives of civil society had earlier expressed concern over the fact that the EVMs do not leave a Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail, or VVPAT for short. VVPAT is a printed receipt-like document that tells voters the vote has been cast.
Retired Brigadier General M Sakhawat Hussain told The Business Standard, "Many people are confused and have doubts about the EVM process. Earlier campaigns could have reduced such suspicions. I think the doubts regarding EVMs would go away if the EC could provide a paper trail. I believe this would resolve many of the issues".
Lieutenant Colonel Kamal Uddin, the EC's EVM project director, told The Business Standard, "Although it is a challenge, the commission is well-prepared to hold the city corporation election with EVMs".
He added that the voting process will take approximately 40-50 seconds.
"I think the EVM will be voter-friendly," he said.
When asked about the use of EVMs, Professor Nazmul Ahsan Kalimullah, president of Jatiya Nirbachon Parjabekkhon Parishad said that people will not face any problem with it.
"The result of the vote will come fast. Therefore, there is no scope of spreading rumors that the vote was rigged," he said.
Badiul Alam Majumdar, secretary of Sushasoner Jonno Nagarik told The Business Standard that the big question that remains is can people really cast their votes?
"Moreover, people do not have faith in the EC either. There are some loopholes in the usage of EVMs. The people who will operate the EVMs may misuse their powers too," said Badiul Alam Majumdar.
How to cast vote
In the electronic voting system, a voter needs to press buttons to cast a vote instead of stamping on a ballot.
First, the voter has to press his thumb on the EVM's control unit to verify that he or she is a voter of that specific area. If the fingerprint doesn't work, then his or her national identification card number will work.
Once a voter is identified, the polling officer will push a button that allows the voter to cast a vote on three digital ballot units, one for mayor, another general councilor and the third for the reserved councilor posts.
The EVMs will be placed in a curtained section so that voters can cast votes secretly. The voter will choose his preferred candidates and press the white button beside the names.
If the voter makes a mistake, he or she will need to press the Red button twice. Finally, he or she will have to recast the votes by pushing the Green button. It takes less than one minute to complete the voting process.