In the name of transparency

10 February 2008 (NST)

With election fever running high, the focus is once again on the Election Commission. ANIZA DAMIS and ELIZABETH JOHN speak to EC secretary Datuk Kamaruzaman Mohd Noor on the registration process, election fraud, and the elusive phantom voters.

Q: Why do we hear of people who go to register but find that they have already registered?

A: Because they have registered before.
Q: But they didn’t know that they were registered. How can that be?
A: That’s impossible. In order to register, you must show your identity card (IC). Unless you lost your IC, somebody found it and registered for you.
But this is most unlikely, because how are they going to sign the registration form in person?
There are all sorts of stories that people create. There are even claims that the Election Commission registers 8-year-olds.
It’s a lot of fun working for the EC, because we get a lot of pahala kering (free merit points particularly when people badmouth you without justification).
You are free to say anything about the EC and me. As long as we don’t do anything wrong, I’ll collect the arrears in the Hereafter.
Have you ever heard of the National Registration Department (NRD) issuing an IC to anybody who is younger than 12 years? Is that logical?
To register, you must have an IC.
Q: What about the MyKID?
A: MyKID is just issuing the number; it’s not an IC.
You are listening to karut-marut (nonsense) and you are convinced (that this is happening).

Q: Do you have any complaints about people who’ve never registered before but who find themselves registered?

A: No. So far, none has come to me.
Q: So, if you believe somebody had used your IC for registration, can you go anywhere to find out how this happened?
A: Maybe your husband takes your IC to go and register. He says you cannot come because you are sick in hospital. Maybe the counter clerk accepts this and registers you, in good faith. There’s no real way of finding out.
Sometimes, if the husband or the wife brings the IC, claiming that the spouse is seriously ill at the moment, but still wants to be registered, then maybe the counter clerk will use his discretion.
Q: Do they have to show their marriage certificate?
A: No. The law doesn’t say that.
Q: During the recent checking of the electoral roll, there were claims that the names of some people who registered in the last quarter did not show on the new electoral roll.
A: These people need to file a complaint with us.
Sometimes, when you register with political parties, they don’t send the form to us. So, the name is missing.
If your name is missing, you just show us the prima facie evidence — the carbon copy of the Borang A (Form A) — that you have registered, and we will include you in the roll.
Why do we display the electoral role? So that the registration of voters is done in a transparent manner.
The last quarter started on Oct 1 and ended on Dec 31. Let’s say you registered on Oct 2. But when we displayed the roll on Jan 12, your name was missing. So now you file a claim to have your name included in the roll and we will include your name. It’s very simple. The rules provide for this.
But let’s say that Elizabeth lives at No 2, Jalan SS22/2, Damansara Jaya. And Aniza lives at No 4, Jalan SS22/2.
When Aniza sees Elizabeth’s name on the roll, Aniza protests and claims that the person who lives in No 2, Jalan SS22/2 is not Elizabeth, but someone else. That is an objection.
So, if anybody finds his name missing from the list or finds that he suddenly has strange neighbours, he can object. It is transparent.
Q: Will Elizabeth find out that someone has objected to her registration, and that her name has been taken out of the list?
A: No, her name won’t be taken out just like that. We have an open court. Elizabeth will be asked to provide the EC with evidence that she lives where she claims to be living. And Aniza will have to give all the evidence for why she says Elizabeth doesn’t live there.
We don’t just listen to one party. We listen to both sides. Then a decision is made.
Q: Can all this be done in just one week?
A: One week is for objections to be filed. The court system will take days or months to settle the complaints, depending on the cases.
The period is allocated for claims and objections. Claims that your name is missing or objections to a fictitious address.
Q: How do you deal with a complaint that there are 70 people claiming to live at one address?
A: One thousand people can live there. Everybody has an address, but not everybody has a house number.
In some areas where the local authority does not provide services, they don’t give you a house number.
At my kampung in Pengkalan Petah, Kelantan, we use only one shop, Kedai Deraman, everybody uses that shop as their address. There are more than 30 houses in that kampung.
So, when people write to you, they put your name, and the kampung’s name. That’s the address.
Q: How do you convince people these are genuine voters, and not phantom voters?
A: There are no phantom voters.
Q: Why is there an impression that there are phantom voters?
A: This is all created by political parties.
Let me ask you: What is your idea of phantom voters?
Q: People who are either not qualified to vote, or people who are using votes that are not theirs.
A: The only qualifications to be a voter are these: You must be a Malaysian above 21 years old, and you must reside in the constituency that you are registering in. That is under Article 119 of the Federal Constitution.
It is impossible to register a non-citizen. Our system is directly linked to the NRD.
As to a person using someone else’s vote: How can you vote for me? When you enter into any polling room, firstly you will have to show your IC. The officer will then read aloud the serial number, IC number, and the voter’s name. Then, all the political party agents in the room will open their books, and see whether all data correspond with what has just been announced.
If the agents see that the voter’s name is not the same as that which is read out, they can object.
So, how can someone who doesn’t have his or her name within the register be allowed to vote? It’s impossible. All the agents will object.
Q: What if they have in their possession an IC that was lost or stolen?
A: If they have a lost or stolen IC (which is not theirs) in their possession, then that is fraud.
Banks have also been cheated. Someone finds an IC and uses it to apply for a loan from the bank. Have you heard of that?
It’s the same. If they want to cheat the EC, they can. But that is cheating. And anybody caught voting using somebody else’s IC can be arrested on the spot.
Q: Have people been arrested before?
A: So far, no one has been arrested. In all the 11 general elections, nothing. Because there is no proof.
It’s only cakap-cakap (talk). And normally, it’s the losing side that talks about it.
Q: Does the polling officer look at the face of the voter to see whether it corresponds with the picture on the IC?
A: Yes. If you change the picture on the IC, like how it is with the old ICs, then the face has changed.
The scale of cheating incidents is very minor. If it happens, the people responsible for it will be arrested on the spot.
Q: In every election, we always hear about voters who are bused in to constituencies.
A: You can take one whole train in, no problem. What’s wrong with that? As long as they are registered voters.
The constitution guarantees that once your name is registered, you can vote.
If a person originates from one constituency in Kedah, for instance, and that person has moved to Kuala Lumpur, for as long as that person wants to be registered in Kedah, there is nothing we can do. Under the constitution, it’s that person’s right.
So, during elections, that person goes back to his hometown and votes. He is not a phantom voter. He is a registered voter who no longer resides at the place where he was originally registered.
In Pengkalan Pasir, there was even a claim that people could transform themselves into little plastic men and go through small holes to vote. That’s what Pas claimed.
Q: Did you investigate it?
A: Just think, can you turn yourself into a little plastic man and squeeze yourself into a little hole? No? You want us to investigate that?
Q: Part of the confusion when people get SMSes about phantom voters is that they usually give an IC number and ask, how can a person born in this year be on the electoral role? Does this mean that the IC number doesn’t always correspond with your birthdate?
A: If you look at your IC, it doesn’t show which century you are born in. So, a person with an IC starting with the numbers 99 could be born in either 1899 or 1999. The person could be a person aged 108 or 8 years old.
Q: But wouldn’t a person aged 108 generally be off the roll a long time ago?
A: No. We went to check and the person is still living.
The custodian of citizenship, births, and deaths is the NRD. So, if the NRD says a person is still living, there’s nothing we can do in the law to expunge the name from the electoral roll.

Q: When a death is registered with the NRD, does the information go to the EC immediately?

A: If the information goes to their ALIS system, then we can tap into that information. But if they have not updated their information, then we won’t know.

Q: How regularly do they update?

A: You have to ask them.
Q: Don’t you ask them?
A: No, because that is their work. We are only the user of the service.
Q: But you are the ones who get attacked when anything goes wrong.
A: If people want to attack us, we can’t do anything about it. When we declared to gazette the 2007 master electoral roll on Feb 5, someone could have died that morning. Later this afternoon, someone will die, too. And their names will still be on the roll, until we clean the roll for the first quarter of 2008, which is at the end of March. There’s nothing we can do.
Q: Have there been instances of “dead people” voting?
A: So far, I have not seen zombies coming to vote.
Q: But where identities have been taken?
A: So far, the complainants have not proven it.
Q: So, when someone comes to register, as long as that person is Malaysian, has an IC, is 21 years old and above, and is resident in that constituency, he can register? You don’t look at the actual age of the person who is in front of you?
A: You can know by the look of the face whether that person is young or old. And, how does a very old person walk? He walks with a stoop, and he shuffles slowly. A young boy runs, it’s different.
Q: So what if an election officer is confronted with a situation where a valid IC has been presented, which should belong to either a 108 year old or an 8 year old, but the person in standing in front of the officer is in his twenties?
A: If NRD says that is your IC, we will register you. These days, we also have bio-metrics. If your thumbprint does not correspond to the IC presented, then we will reject you.
Q: Is it possible that the NRD has issued an IC number that has nothing to do with the birthdate of the person?
A: I don’t know. That you will have to ask the NRD.
You can’t register if you are below 21 years old. Automatically, the system will reject. You cannot even key this in. The computer will only compute somebody who is above 21.

Q: What if a really old person is just registering for the first time?

A: Then we see whether he is really old. If he is really old, then we will register him. The computer will accept it when we key in his age.
Q: If a voter turns up at the polling station and finds out that someone has already voted using his name, what happens? Does that mean that the genuine voter doesn’t get his vote?
A: He doesn’t get to vote. We cannot issue another ballot paper. The law doesn’t provide for us to issue a ballot paper twice. The voter will just have to file a complaint.
Q: What is the procedure after a complaint is filed?
A: It becomes a police investigation. The EC doesn’t investigate, because we don’t have the power to investigate.
Q: In this general election, the serial number will no longer be printed on the ballot counterfoil?
A: No.
Q: So, that means no one will be able to track how a person votes?
A: No. People want the vote to be secret, so we are making it secret.
Q: Indelible ink is going to be put on the fingernail? The ink cannot be removed?
A: As what I have been told by the chairman, all the commissioners have tested it. It stays on the fingernail for a month. The commissioners are convinced by it.
The only way you can remove the ink quickly is if you take out the fingernail.
Q: Do we have enough of it?
A: There’s enough.
Q: So this general election, voters will have to show their hands to the election officers?
A: Yes.
Q: About the transparent ballot boxes, how exactly do they contribute to transparent voting?
A: It can show whether a voter has put the ballot paper inside the box. Last time, they put notes, tissue paper.
Q: They don’t return the ballot paper?
A: No. But how do we know? Because when you go into the polling booth, you put the ballot paper into your pocket and put some other paper into the ballot box.
Now, by having the transparent boxes, everybody can see what the voter puts inside.
Q: And the officers will be watching?

A: Yes.
Q: Does that box break easily?
A: No. It’s been tested by Sirim. It meets all the security and testing requirements.
Q: If the box gets “kidnapped”?
A: For what purpose?
Q: Well, people might want to substitute the ballot papers.
A: How would they do that?
Q: We’re talking about what people believe is possible.
A: That’s why it’s a lot of fun working here, because people accuse me of all sorts of things that I don’t do.
A ballot box will be brought to a polling station. Everyone casts their votes and puts it in the ballot box.
At 5pm, the lid of the ballot box will be closed. And padlocked.
And then, they will rearrange the tables for counting. Once the tables have been rearranged, the boxes will be opened, and the ballot boxes emptied onto the table, and the officers will do the counting.
After the counting, the ballot papers are put back into the box, and the boxes are sealed, and taken to the official tally centre. So, when is there a chance to substitute? You don’t do any counting at the official tally centre.
The physical counting is done at the polling station, in the room itself.
Q: From the polling station to the tally centre, when it is being transported, are the agents sitting in the vans as well?
A: The agents can follow from behind. But what’s the purpose? Because the ballot boxes brought to the official tally centre are not for counting, they’re just for keeping.
Q: No further counting?
A: No more counting. The counting is done in front of the candidate’s agents at the polling station after the voting.
So, how is it possible to substitute the ballot box? Unless two things happen: one, I blind all the agents, and secondly, I make all the agents deaf. Then I can change the ballot boxes.
Prove to me that there is rigging or changing of the ballot box, when the entire process has been done in front of your eyes.
Every agent is being given a form to say that the counting has been done in a proper manner.
The results have all been verified as true by all the agents. We give you a copy and you countersign. So, what cheating is there?

Q: On polling day, if you discover that you have lost your IC, can you come with a temporary IC that is given to you?

A: Yes. You can even bring your driving licence or international passport.
Q: And it won’t be rejected?
A: It won’t be rejected. As long as it is proof of your identity.
You only need your IC to register as a voter. But to vote, you can use your driving licence, international passport, or your IC.
Q: And it doesn’t have to be a MyKad?
A: It can be the old one. We accept any IC. Obtain voter information on website, by SMS
Q: Please explain the voting process.
A: Under Rule 5 of the Election Rules, only registered voters can vote.
Who can vote at a polling station? It is the registered voter within that polling station.
In one constituency, there are many polling stations. So, it doesn’t mean that you can go to any polling station. No, you can only go to vote where your name appears.
Q: How would you check that?
A: You can go to our website and check your details.
But you can check your polling station only after parliament has been dissolved (for elections). When parliament has been dissolved, then we will put up on our website the name of the parliamentary constituency where you are going to vote, the name of the state constituency, the polling station, your serial number in the register of voters, which stream you are supposed to vote in and, finally, the time period in which you have to vote.
That information you can get through our website.
Secondly, you can get that information through our SMS provider.
So, it’s impossible for a person who is IT-literate or who is handphone literate to not know where he is supposed to vote.
If you can send an SMS to your girlfriend, then you should be able to send an SMS to find out your voting details, couldn’t you?
Or you can call the EC. We will have enough people manning the phones. So, it’s impossible to claim ignorance.
Q: Is it all telcos?
A: No, we plan to engage at least five SMS providers.
Q: The big telcos?
A: I can’t say right now, but those who have already submitted their proposal to the EC, we will appoint as our provider.
Q: So, how will this SMS process work?
A: You SMS your IC number, and the provider will give you all your voting information. And you’ll have to pay a nominal fee to them.
Q: So, you are not going to have the problem like in the last election, where Petaling Jaya residents were running around looking for their polling stations?
A: Because they didn’t check in advance! On the morning of the election they want to check.
The condition imposed by the EC is that one polling district must not have more than 3,850 voters.
So, the first stream is 350 voters, then the second stream onwards consists between 600-700 voters. And then there’s a stream for senior citizens, so that they don’t have to wait a long time to vote.
Populations increase daily. If the voting population exceeds 5,000, we have to divide the district into two, so that you have a new polling district.
So, let’s say a voter used to vote in Sea Park in previous elections. In the next election, if a new polling district has been created, that voter may now be sent to vote at another polling station. So, if the voter goes to the old polling station, then he won’t find his name on the list, because his name is now elsewhere.
The reason we limit voter numbers is to ensure that people don’t have to queue up for a long time to vote. And, this is also to make it so that people can vote very close to their homes. That’s why we split the population, so that we give the best service to the people.
So, if you have checked where you are supposed to vote before you leave the house, then it won’t be a problem. But if you assume that you will be voting where you have always voted and you go there without checking, then you are going to have problems.
Q: Does this mean that the polling stations don’t have a master list?
A: A voter can go to any EC information stall. So, you can check for your name in Petaling Jaya, even if your name is registered in Sepang.
We are trying to do that now. We did that for Sarawak — we used a friendly computer system for the whole state.
But don’t go to the political parties’ information stall.
Q: Why?
A: Because they may not have the correct information. Because they may use an outdated book.
The EC stalls will always use the latest list.

Q: Is there a good time or a bad time to go to vote between 8am and 5pm?

A: It depends on the area. Some areas are crowded in the morning and some are crowded in the afternoon.
But the best thing is to go early so that you won’t miss the boat.