Thu, Nov 01, 2007 - Page 8 News List

One country, two voting systems?

By Lee Chun-yi 李俊俋

There has been a lot of talk about whether the ballots for the upcoming referendums on joining the UN should be issued simultaneously with those for the presidential election. The Central Election Committee (CEC) recently held a meeting to decide the issue, but because of opposition by some pro-blue committee members, it did not reach a final decision.

The "one stage" voting procedure means that when voters enter the voting venue, they would be issued ballots for both the presidential election and the various referendums at the same time.

Voters would have to drop the ballot for the presidential election and those for the referendums into different boxes.

The "two stage" voting procedure, for its part, means that ballots are issued separately. After voters have received their ballot for the presidential election and have voted, they go back to receive ballots for the referendums and vote again.

Legality of these two voting procedures is not disputed and voters are surely competent enough to deal with either.

It is therefore difficult to understand why the pan-blue media and politicians oppose the "one-stage" procedure with such fervor, demonizing whenever they can. They even rallied 18 mayors and county commissioners to collectively protest it. To such fanaticism, the only reply is: Don't get so worked up about it.

Generally speaking, the "one-stage" voting procedure is an easier and simpler way of issuing ballots and voting, and it can save a lot of unnecessary manpower and work. On the other hand, using the "two stage" procedure can prevent the problem of people dropping their ballot in the wrong box.

The controversy stem from the fact that issuing all ballots at the same time would be the most effective in terms of increasing the turnout in the referendums.

The outcome of the 2004 referendums shows that if the ballots are issued separately, many people will not know that after voting in one election, they need to pick up another ballot and vote again. This lowered the turnout in the referendum. At the time, many voters who wanted to vote in the referendum complained that they didn't know they had to get into another line.

Because of the way the exits were placed, voters walked straight out of the voting venue after voting in the presidential election and afterwards could not go back in again to vote in the referendum.

Taiwan's democracy has matured a great deal and its people have a lot of experience with voting. Issuing all ballots at the same time would therefore not cause any problems.

Also, referendums are the means for the public to express its opinion, and the system should be designed to encourage voting. Whether the ballots are issued separately or simultaneously, voters will still receive the ballots for voting in the two referendums -- "entering the UN" and "returning to the UN" -- at the same time, which should increase turnout for both.

Why does the pan-blue camp think using the "one stage" voting procedure would only benefit the Democratic Progressive Party? If they worry that issuing ballots simultaneously will increase turnout in the referendums, are they really going to say that their own referendum about "returning to the UN" was only a front?

Looking at the way voting is organized in other countries or states with a mature referendum system, like Switzerland, Denmark or California, it becomes clear that when referendums are combined with important elections, the "one-stage" voting procedure is the norm.

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