The Deputy Chairman of the Election Commission has recently sought to explain the so-called “logistical nightmare” of giving Malaysians overseas the vote.
Over 115 countries and territories in the world allow external voting, and two thirds of these allow external voting by all citizens. Given that 51 years has passed since the concept of absent voting was first provided for in our Federal Constitution, one would have thought that the EC would have studied what is done in other countries and come up with a workable system by now.
MyOverseasVote would like to set out in simple terms how easily overseas voting can be made to work.
Firstly, any Malaysian wishing to vote from overseas will need to be registered with their overseas address as an absent voter or other kind of postal voter. There is no question of the EC having to “trace” voters who have not registered.
(For this to work effectively, there should either be an expedited route for voters to switch between ordinary and absent voters under the 2002 (Registration of Electors) Regulations, or overseas voters must be gazetted as postal voters under the 2003 (Postal Voting) Regulations, and must be able to apply to be postal voters in advance of an election. Both of these require amendments to the relevant rules.)
Once nominations have closed and ballot papers have been printed, returning officers should issue the postal ballots in front of candidates’ election agents and seal them in envelopes divided up by consulate, which should be sent via the EC to each Malaysian consulate overseas by diplomatic pouch. Only one pouch needs to be sent to each Malaysian consulate overseas.
Once postal ballots are received by a Malaysian consulate, it should summon election agents of each political party to witness the envelopes being unsealed and to witness that all the postal ballots are placed into the local postal system.
(The 2003 Regulations already allow the EC to provide for the method of despatch of postal ballots. Provision may have to be made for the official appointment of overseas election agents by political parties.)
In order to vote, each voter will have to receive the postal ballot at his home address, fill out and sign a declaration of identity in front of a witness, and then mark the ballot paper and return the postal ballot together with the declaration of identity to the Malaysian consulate. This can either be returned by post or in person to the Malaysian consulate.
Each Malaysian consulate should have 27 sealed ballot boxes, 13 for state elections and 14 for federal elections. Upon receipt of each ballot, it should be placed into the relevant ballot box.
After the close of polling on polling day, each ballot box will be unsealed in front of counting agents from each party, and the ballots will be sorted into constituencies. Once sorted, they can be counted and the results tabulated on one form for each of the 27 ballot boxes. These forms will record, e.g.:
“MALAYSIAN HIGH COMMISSION, LONDON
NEGRI SEMBILAN (STATE ELECTION)
N1: BN–45, PKR–47, Ind.–2;
N2: BN–22, PAS–18, Ind.–1, spoilt–1;
N3: … etc.”
These forms can then be faxed to the EC in Malaysia, who will then fax them to individual returning officers to be added to the constituency tally.
(Allowing counting of postal ballots to take place in Malaysian consulates overseas will require amendments to the 1981 (Conduct of Elections) Regulations. The consulate should then be the only place where overseas postal ballots are counted.)
Postal voting for overseas Malaysians need not be excessively expensive. Australia manages to conduct overseas voting for A$1.2 million out of a total election expenditure of A$75 million. In any case, the EC already has to send overseas postal ballots to government servants and students overseas, so the additional cost of including postal ballots for other Malaysians overseas will surely be marginal.
All Malaysian citizens have a constitutional right to vote. Given that overseas voters represent 1 million out of a total electorate of 15-16 million Malaysian voters, the additional cost and effort of overseas postal voting is surely justified.