Training Polling Staff for Credible Elections

Learning how to seal ballot boxes at a training for Presiding & Assistant Presiding Officers in Faisalabad Photo: UNDP Pakistan/Mukhi Bano

More than 86 million voters were registered to vote in the 2013 Pakistan General Elections. Almost 70,000 polling stations were needed to facilitate them and each polling station required well-trained staff to manage polling. The training of this staff plays an instrumental role in guaranteeing the credibility of the elections as they are the ones to set up the polling booths, facilitate voters, count ballots and fill out various forms, including the results form. An election is a major public event, requiring large-scale logistical planning conducted in a high profile, time-bound period.

“Usually, it is staff from our Education Department that is assigned to polling stations but the only way to understand what our duty involves is to ask our seniors. For example, despite having served as polling staff in several elections already, I had no idea of how to use the Magisterial Powers assigned to Presiding Officers,” said Uzma Sabri, a resident of District Multan who works with the Education Department.


  • 3 trainings of lead trainers were held creating a pool of 56 lead trainers - including 16 lead trainers from within the ranks of the ECP.
  • 86 trainings of master trainers held across Punjab and 1,860 people were trained as master trainers.
  • 9,124 workshops were conducted for 41,997 presiding officers & 195,201 assistant presiding officers.
  • 2,614 orientation sessions were held to train 93,464 Polling Officers.

To help support the elections, the UNDP Electoral Cycle Support to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) 2012-2014 Project assisted the ECP to roll out trainings to more than 300,000 polling staff, including Presiding Officers (PrOs), Assistant Presiding Officers (APOs) and Polling Officers (POs) in the province of Punjab and the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT).

By-elections held in 13 different constituencies across Pakistan from April 2012 through February 2013 served as pilot cases where the ECP, the Project and IFES tested various training materials and methodologies before chalking out the details of the large scale training roll out for the General Elections. The handbooks for Presiding Officers and Assistant Presiding Officers included a specially designed workbook where participants could see and fill out replicas of the actual forms they filled as part of their duties before and on Election Day. The training was designed to be participatory with practical demonstrations and role-plays of how to arrange a polling station, seal ballot boxes, conduct the polling process, count results and other activities. An important addition was the exercise of Magisterial Powers by Presiding Officers so that staff could more effectively maintain law and order at the polling station.

Training delivery itself took place in a cascade. In the first step, the UNDP’s Module Development Team identified a pool of technical and professional Lead Trainers who they trained during 5 day workshops. In the second stage, Lead Trainers proceeded to train over 1,800 Master Trainers at three day workshops held all across Punjab and ICT. Finally, these Master Trainers delivered trainings to polling personnel. One day workshops were held for all Presiding Officers and Assistant Presiding Officers while half day orientation sessions took place for Polling Officers. As the lists of polling personnel were only finalised a few short weeks before Election Day, more than 300,000 people had to be trained in a period of less than three weeks, a considerable logistical and managerial challenge!

The Project’s efforts equipped polling personnel with the knowledge and capacity to play a positive role in the conduct of elections, as trained staff helped ensure that voters were able to cast their ballots in accordance with ECP procedures.

“This is the fifth time that I am going to be a Presiding Officer but the training helped clarify each one of our responsibilities and also illustrated many new measures taken by the ECP, such as the introduction of Tamper Evident Bags to transport results forms from the polling station to the office of the Returning Officer. Moreover, the training material and practical mock demonstrations really helped facilitate learning. I am certain that I will now be a more informed and effective Presiding Officer,” said Rukhsana Qadir, a Presiding Officer who attended a training in District Gujrat.

The Project’s other areas of support to the ECP include the development of a results management system and a voter education campaign. In the post-elections period the Project will continue to collaborate with the ECP, focusing on strengthening the long-term capacity of the ECP, electoral reforms and improvements to electoral processes, civic education and local government elections.

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