Lawmakers divided on absentee voting

ACADEMIC ISSUES::While several professors said that absentee voting is a proven system, others argued that Taiwan does not need overseas voting to boost turnout

By Chen Ching-min, Tseng Wei-chen and Jake Chung  /  Staff reporters, with staff writer

Sun, Mar 31, 2013 - Page 3

Opinions on absentee voting remained divided among academics and lawmakers across party lines as Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Ting Shou-chun (丁守中) yesterday proposed a draft bill to allow absentee voting in referendums and elections.

KMT Legislator Wu Yu-sheng (吳育昇) said that since many areas in which the pan-blue camp once held dominance had become unreliable and that many students and workers were based in cities different from their registered residence, there should be no significant difference in the voter turnout for any political party.

However, the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) Lee Chun-yi (李俊俋) said that while the location of voting may not affect who the average worker or student votes for, the location of ballots for military personnel could influence them.

DPP Legislator Kuan Bi-ling (管碧玲) had a different perspective on the issue, saying that compared with other democracies, the turnout rate for Taiwanese elections is very high.

However, the spirit and value of democracy does not lie in the high turnout rate, but rather in the egalitarian way in which elections are held, she said.

The implementation of absentee voting may cause people “who do not have freedom, or who are only partially free” — such as military personnel still in the barracks or prisoners — to be influenced by the government, she said.

Taiwanese businesspeople in China merit consideration, she said, adding that if such businesspeople choose to vote in Kinmen or Matsu, China may be able to monitor and influence how they vote.

The pan-green camp is united in its complete refusal to consider the possibility of overseas voting by mail, which may incur secret ballot breaches, or give rise to vote buying and interference by a third- party government, DPP caucus convener Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘) said.

“This is something that I believe both the KMT and the DPP are afraid of,” Ker said.

Meanwhile, academics were also divided on the issue.

National Taiwan University professor Wang Yeh-lih (王業立) said absentee voting is a proven system that has been implemented by many nations, and Taiwan has the capability to implement such as system.

However, Soochow University political science professor Hsu Yung-ming (徐永明) said that Taiwan does not require such a system to boost its turnout rate.

According to Wang, the main problem lies in a lack of faith between the governing and the opposition parties, adding that such distrust would only become sharper if Taiwan implemented electronic voting.

If absentee voting was concentrated in a few select areas, it may be possible that abseentee voters could be influenced, Hsu said. There is also the risk of government departments trying to mobilize their workers on the sly, he said.

For instance, if a large number of civil servants take a leave of absence from work, it may become possible for government departments to organize these absentees into voting for a certain political party via absentee voting systems, Hsu said.

If it is simply a measure to boost the voter turnout rate, extending the voting period would be sufficient, Hsu said.

The one situation most suitable for absentee voting is a referendum, because referendums are topic-driven and do not result in a political victory for a certain party, Hsu said.