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The Parliamentary Select Committee on Electoral Reform Should Instruct the Election Commission to Implement Postal Voting with Safeguards with Immediate Effect
Since October 2010, MyOverseasVote has been campaigning for all Malaysians overseas to be given the right to vote by post. On 25 August 2011, the Election Commission (EC) chairman promised to extend postal voting to all Malaysians living overseas. On 1 December 2011, the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) on Electoral Reform recommended that all Malaysians overseas be given the right to vote by post by extending the definition of ‘postal voter’. These recommendations were accepted in full by the Dewan Rakyat.
In our view, the problem is not with postal voting per se, but with flaws in the existing postal voting process.
For too long, postal voting in Malaysia has not operated as the law intended. Instead of being sent directly to entitled servicemen and women, armed forces postal ballot papers have been sent via the military chain of command, allowing them to be intercepted and fraudulently misused. Instead of being allowed to mark their votes in secret, armed forces postal voters have had to mark their ballot papers in front of their military superiors, thereby putting them in fear that their votes would not be secret. Over time, postal voting in Malaysia has become synonymous with fraud and unfair balloting.
But there is certainly a place for postal voting in a modern electoral system. Not all Malaysians overseas live in the vicinity of a Malaysian embassy or consulate: for example, between the Malaysian high commission in Ottawa and the consulate-general in Vancouver is a distance of over 4,500 km. Overseas postal voting used by at least 40 countries worldwide, including Canada, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. In the Malaysian context, postal voting would require at least 4-5 week campaigning period in between nomination and polling days, in order for postal ballots to be sent out and returned by post, unless practical measures are taken to speed up the despatch and collection of postal ballots.
MyOverseasVote believes that overseas postal voting is practicable as long as certain mechanisms and safeguards are put in place. On 16 December 2011, MyOverseasVote gave a presentation to the PSC outlining the safeguards that we proposed in order to implement overseas postal voting. In particular, MyOverseasVote proposed that each political party and independent candidate should be allowed to appoint overseas election agents to witness the postal voting process at each embassy/consulate, and that all postal ballot papers:
– should be sent by diplomatic pouch to the relevant embassy/consulate and then forwarded to postal voters by local post or courier in the presence of the overseas election agents,
– should be returned by postal voters to the same embassy/consulate by post, courier or in person and there placed into sealed ballot boxes which have been signed by the overseas election agents,
– should be counted at the same embassy/consulate in the presence of the overseas election agents once the deadline for the return of overseas postal ballots had passed.
As postal ballot papers do not need to be returned in person, it is not necessary that every Malaysian embassy or consulate be used for the postal voting process. For example, the Malaysian high commission in London could be used to despatch, collect and count all postal votes for Western Europe, as airmail within Western Europe only takes 3 working days.
In order to facilitate counting, we recommended that the deadline for the return of overseas postal votes be up to two days before polling day in Malaysia. We proposed that 27 ballot boxes would need to be prepared in each embassy/consulate, i.e. for State elections in the 13 States and for Parliamentary elections in the 13 States plus the Federal Territories. Because postal ballot papers are sealed in an envelope, the postal ballot papers can be sorted by individual constituency after each box is opened. The results for each box can then be tabulated in a spreadsheet form and returned to the EC in Malaysia by fax.
MyOverseasVote even drafted and presented to the PSC and to the EC the amendments to the election regulations that were necessary in order to put this system into operation. Our submissions and draft regulations are available online at https://myoverseasvote.files.wordpress.com/2011/12/psc.pdf .
Seven months has passed since the EC Chairman first announced the extension of overseas postal voting to all Malaysians, and three months has passed since the Dewan Rakyat accepted the PSC’s proposal to put the overseas postal voting for all Malaysians in place. We urgently call upon the PSC now to instruct the EC to make the necessary amendments immediately in order that this system can be implemented at the next general election.