72,058 ballots not returned

By Aniza Damis and Elizabeth John

16 March, 2008
PUTRAJAYA: In spite of the introduction of transparent ballot boxes this year, as many as 72,058 ballot papers were unreturned in the March 8 general election. Of this number, 41,564 were parliamentary ballot papers and 30,494 were state ballot papers.
Election Commission secretary Datuk Kamaruzaman Mohd Noor said postal voters were responsible for this.
“All of them are postal ballot papers,” he said.
“It can’t be from non-postal voters, because all the normal ballot papers have to be put inside the transparent ballot boxes. And this has to be done right in front of the polling officer.
“If a ballot paper was not put in, the officer would have seen it, unless he was sleeping.”
Transparent ballot boxes are meant to contribute to a more transparent election process, because polling officers can ensure that ballot-stuffing (where a voter submits more than one ballot paper) does not occur.
In addition, officers can spot when a voter has not submitted his ballot paper. Taking out ballot papers from the polling station is an election offence.
Furthermore, Kamaruzaman added, he had not received any complaints of anyone taking out ballot papers from polling stations.
“I can tell you for certain only after the post-mortem. But right now, there are no complaints.”
The commission is yet to conduct a post-mortem on the election.
If it is true that all unreturned ballot papers are postal ballots papers, this means that for parliamentary elections, 18.8 per cent of postal ballot papers were not returned.
In this election, there were 221,085 postal voters out of 10,922,139 registered voters nationwide and 10,701,054 ordinary voters.
In the 2004 election, there were 35,345 unreturned parliamentary ballot papers, and 30,848 unreturned state ballot papers.
Then, there were 10,284,591 registered voters, out of which 10,083,879 were ordinary voters, and 200,712 postal voters.
However, during the 2004 election it was not possible to attribute the main contributor of unreturned ballot papers to postal voters, because ballot boxes used then were not transparent.
On the issue of the inclusion of a declaration of identity form together with postal ballot papers, Kamaruzaman said the form was only a means to ensure that a voter received the correct ballot paper. It did not in any way impinge on the secrecy of the ballot.
In the postal voting process, after marking his ballot paper, a postal voter then puts the ballot paper into a small envelope, on which the serial number of the ballot paper is written. This envelope is then sealed.
The small envelope is then put into a bigger envelope together with the declaration form, which also has the ballot paper’s serial number, as well as the name, identity card number, and signature of the voter.
This bigger envelope is also sealed, and put into the postal ballot bag.
“At the counting centre, the envelope is opened in front of the candidates’ agents. The officer checks that the serial number in the declaration form corresponds to the serial number on the small envelope.
“If it doesn’t correspond, the ballot is rejected. If it is identical, the declaration form is detached from the ballot and it is disposed of. It is destroyed after 21 days.
“You are not going to see the declaration form anymore.”
It is only when the declaration form has been cast aside that the envelope with the ballot paper is opened, and then placed in a candidate’s tray.
Kamaruzaman said it was impossible for the ballots to be tampered with or stolen while it was in the ballot bag, because the key to the ballot bag was with the returning officer.
He said there was no way the declaration of identity could be abolished, since it would then mean that the EC could not check whether the person who received the ballot paper was legally entitled to receive it.
“I must have your name and IC number, so that I give the paper to the correct person. But whom you vote for is up to you.”
He added the perception that the declaration of identity imposed pressure on postal voters to vote a certain way was created by political parties. Postal votes were as secret as ordinary votes.
With regards to ordinary ballot papers and the removal of the practice of writing down the ballot paper’s serial number onto the counterfoil, he said political parties wanted this practice to be reinstated, because without it, it was difficult to determine claims of non-issuance of ballot papers.
“Now they are asking for it back. Last time, they wanted it to be taken out.”
He declined to comment on the indelible ink controversy, stamp duty (where a stamp duty requirement was placed on all candidates three days before nomination day, but then revoked on nomination morning), or on the delay in the announcement of election results.
He said policy issues were the responsibility of the commissioners.
However, he confirmed the indelible ink had been bought and that it was in the EC store.
Though he did not know what the EC planned to do with it, he said the ink had a shelf life of six months.