The Election Commission (EC) Chairman, Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof, has recently been roundly criticised by Bersih 2.0 and other civil society groups over his proposal to limit postal voting to overseas Malaysians who pay taxes in Malaysia.
The EC Chairman was reported as saying that the EC would discuss with the Parliamentary Select Committee on Electoral Reform the number of years a Malaysian could not pay tax before being barred from voting by post (“Move to exclude”, The Sun Daily, 31 January)
To justify his proposal, the EC Chairman cited the American electoral system, saying that only US taxpayers were allowed to vote. On the back of this statement, the MCA leader, endorsed the proposal to bar overseas Malaysians who do not pay tax from voting in parliamentary or state elections as absent voters.
In responding to the criticisms from Bersih 2.0, MyOverseasVote and even Gerakan, the EC Chairman now claims that he never suggested that only tax-paying Malaysians overseas should be allowed to be postal voters, saying:
I also gave an example of the practice in the United States where postal voters should be taxpayers; but never did I mention that I will propose that only taxpayers are allowed to become postal voters abroad. (Bernama, 5 February)
We find it astonishing that it has taken nearly a week for the EC Chairman to explain himself and to claim that he was misquoted by the media. Whether or not this is true, MyOverseasVote cannot overlook the EC Chairman and the MCA’s ignorant and misleading assertions about the American system of overseas voting.
Fact number 1: The United States of America does not operate a “No Tax, No Vote” system. While the USA taxes the overseas income of her citizens, taxation and the right to vote are two completely separate issues. Under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, an American citizen abroad can vote via an absentee ballot in any federal election so long as he/she is a U.S. citizen 18 years or older and is a U.S. citizen residing outside the United States. In 2009, Congress strengthened the rights of these voters by enacting the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act. The U.S. Embassy in London has confirmed to MyOverseasVote that the only prerequisites for a U.S. absentee ballot are American citizenship and voting age.
Fact number 2: According to the Constitution of the United States of America, it is illegal to link the payment of taxes to the right to vote. The Twenty-fourth Amendment (ratified in 1964) provides that:
The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.
In an interview with MyOverseasVote, Roland Crim, Director of Americans Citizens Abroad (ACA), which specialises in US Expat Tax issues said :
Since the 1964 ratification by the States of the 24th Amendment, Americans cannot be denied the right to vote on the grounds that they do not pay taxes. American citizens who have lived in the United States register to vote and cast their ballots through the voting Registrar in their last place of residence. A distinguishing feature of American citizenship is that it imposes a requirement to file a tax return declaring to the U.S. government all personal income, both earned or unearned, even for Americans living abroad. In many cases, however, an overseas resident tax filer will not pay anything, because after deductions, and after credit for taxes paid in his country of residence, there is no tax due. A filer for whom no tax is due can nevertheless cast a vote with no problem.
MyOverseasVote strongly condemns the MCA for its support of this proposal to deprive Malaysians who do not pay tax of their voting rights, and congratulates Gerakan for their rejection of this ludicrous proposal. We remind the EC that their duty is to run the election process in a fair and impartial way, and not to try to extinguish the right of all Malaysians to vote, as enshrined in the Federal Constitution.