Sat, Jan 09, 2016 - Page 3 News List

ELECTIONS: Independent ballot photographers in short supply

By Abraham Gerber  /  Staff Reporter

Efforts to send independent observers to photograph ballot counting during next week’s elections continue to lag, the People’s Ballot Inspection Alliance said yesterday, calling for volunteers.

The alliance said that without additional staff it would be forced to rely on observers employed by political parties for more than half of the nation’s polling stations.

Taiwan Asian Network for Free Elections president Chen Chien-fu (陳建甫) said that the group had only recruited about 2,500 volunteers, far short of the number needed to attend the nation’s more than 15,600 polling stations, he said.

While the vast majority of volunteers are from Greater Taipei, Taipei and New Taipei City, only 37 percent of polling booths in the area are independently covered, he said, adding that Taitung County has no volunteers, with many other remote areas also lagging behind. Only Keelung and Yilan County are close to full coverage, he said.

While the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has promised staff to cover volunteer shortages in remote areas, relying on large political parties could undermine the alliance’s goal of providing an independent vote count and protecting small party interests, he said.

While the People First Party, New Power Party (NPP) and Green Party-Social Democratic Party Alliance would also provide assistance, they could provide only limited coverage due to a lack of personnel, he said.

“The Alliance and the NPP can help in some major areas such as Taipei, but in other areas they do not have candidates, so it is difficult for them to mobilize people,” he said.

While both the DPP and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) receive government subsidies to send observers to polling stations, most small parties are ineligible because of voting threshold requirements, he said.

Alliance founder Lo Cheng-fang (羅正方) said that having independent observers was particularly important in this election because of the “complicated” party ballot paper, which he said could be almost 1m long with 18 registered parties.

He said the group’s mobile app for reporting the final vote count at polling stations would allow double-checking for fraud if any discrepancies emerged.

Chen added that counter to expectations that students would constitute the majority of volunteers, most had turned out to be politically active individuals between 30 and 40 years old.

“You cannot go to schools because they do not care, but at a certain age level, there are a lot of people who are very knowledgeable about, and pay close attention to, elections,” he said. “While young people might just surf the Internet, the real opinion leaders are between 30 and 40 years old.”

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