Fri, Nov 30, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Laws to blame for polling issues

By Yang Yung-nane 楊永年

The Central Election Commission (CEC) has taken so much criticism over problems with Saturday’s elections and referendums that its chairman, Chen In-chin (陳英鈐), took the blame and resigned.

Many people said it took too long to vote, with some having to line up for more than two hours. Some people simply gave up and did not vote at all.

Many blamed the slow procedure on factors that fall within the remit of the CEC, such as the way the ballots were printed, the routes voters had to follow inside polling stations, the arrangement of ballot boxes and so on.

While there is room for improvement in all of these, we must not overlook five problems that affected the referendum polling on this occasion.

First, the procedure by which current referendum policies were drawn up was too haphazard. Amendments to the Referendum Act (公民投票法) were enacted on Dec. 12 last year without sufficient discussion.

By lowering the thresholds for initiating, seconding and passing referendums, these amendments led to an explosion in the number of referendums. To make matters worse, the schedule for processing referendums was dramatically shortened. In amending the act, legislators did not take into account the difficulties that might arise in implementing it, leading to the chaos seen when these policies were carried out.

Second, there are insufficient incentives for election officers. On this occasion, the great number of referendum proposals required more working time to process, without enough election officers to do it. This led to senior executives at local governments having to serve as election officers at polling stations. More election officers than before were forced into the role.

We need to discuss how to create better incentives to encourage people to serve as election officers.

Third, the time frame to prepare the election was significantly compressed. Local elections that do not include referendums are usually finalized at least four months in advance, allowing enough time to recruit election officers, and to plan and implement polling station layouts and procedures.

However, this time the nine-in-one elections were held alongside 10 referendums that were still not finalized one month before election day. The shortened preparation time caused confusion among election officials both nationally and locally, who came under immense pressure while implementing the policies.

Fourth, the referendum topics were badly presented. Apart from the large number of referendums, many voters also complained about their long-winded wording. Even highly literate people found the referendum texts difficult, never mind elderly people in rural areas who might have difficulty reading. We must think about how to make referendum questions simpler and clearer.

Fifth, there was not enough communication about the referendum topics. The greatly shortened schedules for the referendums did not allow for sufficient public communication and education, making them more like opinion polls.

Voters should be able to commit sufficient thought and discussion to referendum topics before they eventually make up their minds and vote. Furthermore, any policy decided upon will require complementary measures, so if policies are decided through referendums without adequate discussion, it might not be practical to carry them out.

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