The Kaohsiung City Government is using the COVID-19 outbreak as an excuse to restrict the number of classrooms that schools can offer for use as polling stations in the recall vote on Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜).
The Kaohsiung Civil Affairs Bureau has issued documents requiring that district offices should only accept polling station venues offered by public organizations and reject offers from private groups or citizens.
This has led to a shortage of polling stations for the June 6 vote. It has also raised questions about whether Han’s administration is creating obstacles by setting up polling stations that people are unfamiliar with, so they might go to the wrong stations, or it is trying to suppress participation by halving the number of stations, forcing voters to wait in longer lines.
Central Election Commission (CEC) representatives on Saturday reached an agreement with the city’s election commission that the number of polling stations should be the same as during the mayoral election.
If the Kaohsiung Education Bureau and Civil Affairs Bureau do not abide by the deal and continue to interfere with the recall vote on technical grounds, they would be contravening the law.
According to Article 7 of the Administrative Procedure Act (行政程序法), “the method adopted must be helpful to the achievement of the objectives thereof.”
However, Han’s administration is trying to do the opposite by restricting the number of polling stations.
Its actions also contravene epidemic prevention objectives.
According to the Civil Servants Election and Recall Act (公職人員選舉罷免法), government organs are legally bound to urge citizens to use their right to vote. By restricting the number of polling stations, the Han administration is clearly contravening the law.
Even more absurdly, it is using disease prevention measures as an excuse to restrict the use of schools as polling stations. According to the Central Epidemic Command Center’s (CECC) policy that people should avoid crowds — and in line with the global epidemic prevention consensus that countries should ban crowds — the administration’s restrictions would create crowds by forcing people to wait in lines at fewer polling stations.
The number of polling stations should be increased and spread over a greater area to reduce potential crowding.
Restricting the number of stations in contravention of generally accepted epidemic prevention is not beneficial to the disease prevention measures, which means that the Han administration is contravening the Administrative Procedure Act.
Civil servants suspected of dereliction of duty would face the Control Yuan, other central-government authorities and prosecutors.
Article 76 of the Local Government Act (地方制度法) stipulates that “in the event of inactions by the special municipalities ... despite stipulations by law, thus seriously undermining public interest and impeding the normal operations of local government matters, and if such actions can be carried out by a proxy, the Executive Yuan, relevant central competent authorities, or county governments shall separately instruct special municipalities ... to carry out such actions within a specified period, and may themselves act as proxy in the event of continuous inaction beyond the specified period; provided, however, that the Executive Yuan, relevant central competent authorities, or county governments may act as proxies in the event of emergencies.”
This means that the central government can take charge of arranging polling stations to guarantee the public’s right to vote and avoid the epidemic risk posed by crowds.
Huang Di-ying is a lawyer.
Translated by Perry Svensson
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