On Jan. 8, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Fan Yun (范雲) and a coalition of small parties and civil groups called for election deposits to be abolished, to ensure that everyone has an equal right to run for political office.
However, from the perspective of election officials, the deposit is necessary, as rashly abolishing it would degrade the quality of Taiwan’s elections and its democracy, for the following reasons:
First, abolishing the deposit would significantly increase the number of candidates in every election, and could even paralyze the election process.
For example, in councilor elections, the number of people applying to run in each county and city could reach double digits, or even triple digits, making for a complex registration and proclamation process.
If the government abolished the threshold for registration, the excessive number of candidates would increase the administrative burden of election officials, delaying vote counts.
In the 2018 nine-in-one local elections, the counting of votes was delayed until late at night, as multiple elections were held simultaneously. If the number of candidates surged, the counting of votes would likely continue into the next day.
The deposit is a sign that candidates have some backing. If a potential candidate cannot even raise a small deposit from supporters, they lack either support or sincerity, and only want to campaign to boost their media exposure. Allowing such candidates to run is of no benefit; it is just a waste of administrative and public resources.
Second, abolishing the deposit does not increase the possibility of electing “virtuous and able candidates.”
If the deposit were abolished, the cost of running for office would be greatly reduced, and the number of candidates in a single electoral district could easily reach 50 or more. Voters, with the dozens of unfamiliar faces and unclear platforms on each election bulletin, would have difficulty distinguishing between good and bad candidates. They might end up simply voting for the candidates that had the most campaign ads.
Surely this would benefit candidates capable of spending more money on ads.
Third, replacing the deposit with public cosigners would not improve the situation.
Those who want to abolish the deposit have said that a person’s financial status should not be an obstacle to political participation. They propose that prospective candidates have the option of submitting a certain number of signatures in lieu of a deposit.
The question is whether the signature drive would be without cost. For example, each step of the signature drive for a recall proposal, from the setting up of signature stations to the mobilization of personnel and the distribution of information, requires money.
If the number of signatures acted as a threshold, those with more funds and greater party support would have a better possibility of crossing it. This would hardly improve the situation, as a person’s financial status would still determine their ability to run for office.
Finally, the huge campaign expenses, not the deposit, are what turn elections into a money game.
The main reason for abolishing the deposit is to prevent elections from becoming a cash game, but the massive campaign expenses are what turn most elections into a money game — campaign staff, printed pamphlets, ads and rallies all cost money.
A budget cap would effectively rid elections of the problem, but abolishing the deposit is neither a permanent nor a temporary cure.
Wang Yu-pei is a former correctional counselor.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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