Under the government’s COVID-19 quarantine policy, confirmed cases are not allowed to leave their residences, which would make voting impossible for people with COVID-19.
The average daily caseload last week was more than 39,000, down 25 percent from the same period the previous week. The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) has predicted that confirmed COVID-19 cases could drop to about 20,000 a day in a week or two. By the time of the local elections next month, there might be about 200,000 confirmed cases unable to cast their ballots due to a requirement to quarantine at home.
“Regardless of whether you test positive for COVID-19 or are obligated to isolate at home, you can vote in polling stations as long as you are legally allowed to go outside,” Central Election Commission Chairman Lee Chin-yung (李進勇) said on Monday.
However, as the CECC is acting in accordance with the Communicable Disease Control Act (傳染病防治法), the movement of confirmed cases is still restricted, meaning they are prohibited from leaving their homes to exercise their voting rights.
I was crestfallen to discover that the commission has not tried to fix the problem, while other countries have found ways to allow people with COVID-19 to vote in elections.
South Korea adopted mail-in voting and extended the voting hours, so confirmed cases could enter polling stations in the evening, separate from other voters.
In Japan, after confirmed cases apply to vote by mail at least four days before the election, they receive a return envelope and a ballot.
Many US states have a long history of allowing voters to cast their ballots by mail, helping confirmed cases to vote.
In Australia, anyone who tests positive is eligible to use a telephone service to vote, while in the UK, confirmed cases can apply for an emergency proxy vote.
The Singaporean government set up special polling stations for those in home isolation to use.
Democracies around the globe have strived to protect every eligible citizen’s fundamental right to vote.
During the Martial Law era from 1949 to 1987, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) was notorious for rigging elections. Taiwanese back then regarded voting as something of an exercise in futility, which could explain why citizens and officials have long overlooked the importance of voter enfranchisement.
Now that there is bipartisan consensus on lowering the voting age to broaden civic participation, the government should take corresponding measures to set up channels for COVID-19 cases to exercise their voting rights.
As many countries have lifted COVID-19 restrictions and bans, perhaps the CECC could temporarily lift restrictions on election day, or the legislature could amend the Special Act for Prevention, Relief and Revitalization Measures for Severe Pneumonia with Novel Pathogens (嚴重特殊傳染性肺炎防治及紓困振興特別條例) to exclude those that have been infected with certain variants of SARS-CoV-2.
Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) is unwise to “go the extra mile” with his “zero COVID-19” strategy to consolidate his political authority. In Taiwan, a country that celebrates democratic values, the government should consider and ensure the voting rights of 200,000 citizens. It is time for the CECC and the Central Election Commission to come together and fix voting problems before the local elections.
Lai Yu-che is a retired professor and a farmer in Hualien.
Translated by Rita Wang
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