Mon, Dec 03, 2018 - Page 6 News List

No surprise that people are angry at the CEC

By Ernie Ko 葛傳宇

On Nov. 24, many Taiwanese voters cursed the Central Election Commission (CEC) while waiting in long lines to cast their ballots in the local elections and referendums.

Some media outlets reported that waiting in line to vote is the price of democracy and that people in certain countries do not even have the opportunity to wait in line for an hour or two to vote. Everyone knows the target of this sarcasm.

However, according to this logic, if waiting in line to vote, no matter how long, is tolerable, would that not mean that Taiwanese elections are of the same standard as elections in the developing world?

My foreign friends at Transparency International once told me that the voting and counting process in African or Latin American elections could take as long as a week. Is this something Taiwanese voters would like to see?

For the almost 20 million eligible voters in Taiwan, the “time cost” of returning to their hometowns from other cities or even countries to vote is extremely high. This raises the question: Given Taiwan’s highly educated workforce and high-tech industry, should Taiwan not be able to hold an election through a safe and reliable digital voting system?

Several years ago, the government sent a delegation to Estonia to learn about its online voting system, the full report of which has been posted online. However, due to departmentalism, government agencies are afraid and unwilling to initiate election reform.

Enforcement of election and referendum-related laws during the polls was also controversial.

Article 17 of the Constitution stipulates that the public’s right to political participation includes “the right of election, recall, initiative and referendum.” The last two refer to referendums.

Article 7 of the Constitution states: “All citizens of the Republic of China, irrespective of sex, religion, race, class or party affiliation, shall be equal before the law.”

However, Taiwan’s lawmakers have drawn a distinction between elections and referendums by giving people aged 18 or older the right to vote on a referendum, but only people aged 20 or older have the right to vote in an election or recall.

Although such age discrimination might be unconstitutional, the CEC did not express a dissenting view, thus planting the seeds for a collective constitutional lawsuit by those aged 18 to 20.

The CEC’s election rules clearly state that voting must end at 4pm on election day, not that allowing people to line up to vote must stop at 4pm. Whether the votes cast after 4pm by those who arrived at the polling stations before 4pm are valid might be key to the legal battles launched by losing candidates.

Unfortunately, the CEC did not foresee the problem and take precautions to prevent it, or make a prompt decision to extend the voting time nationwide, but instead overinterpreted the election rules by deciding that every vote counted if people were in line before 4pm.

In an interview after the elections, then-CEC chairman Chen In-chin (陳英鈐) simply said that this was how it used to be. The election authorities’ inability to respond to a changing situation is regrettable. In short, that the CEC took the initiative to breach the law is unacceptable.

The government tied the 10 referendums to the nine-in-one elections, but the bureaucratic incompetence was quickly exposed by angry voters waiting in long lines.

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