Why I’m not for automatic voter registration

Malaysian Insider
JUNE 2 — There are many political beliefs in Malaysia, regardless of how people continue to state that we merely need to have a two-party system in this nation.
Honestly, I don’t believe in the myth of a two-party system. Instead, I am more a believer in the alliance of multiple political belief systems to form coalitions after an election to determine who gets to govern the nation.
While there are NGOs and other groups that insist on pushing for automatic voter registration whenever a child’s birth is registered, or even when they apply for an identity card, I am against the idea.
Not that I have anything against people registering to vote. I am a registered voter myself. However, to force something on someone — be it religion, racism and even voter registration — is something I just can’t agree with.
It’s against a person’s free will. I see it as similar to parents determining their kids’ religions at birth; performing circumcision on a kid who doesn’t know any better; or even how parents of a male child with no penis would show off their kid in a photo opportunity for the Malaysian media, as we saw in 2009.
There are many fears in having an automatic-registration system, primarily on the basis of privacy.
During the 1998 general election, I actually volunteered to help out Irene Fernandez’s campaign in Subang Jaya. One of my voluntary duties was to distribute campaign pamphlets to houses, complete with the names and addresses printed on a small rectangular piece of white paper.
Now bear in mind that I was 15 at the time. I failed to actually think of where those addresses came from until I found out that this data was freely available for political campaigns.
Political campaigns have a tendency to spam people during elections, with things that sometimes have no basis to be distributed to people. For example, every house with a registered voter in Shah Alam during Election 2008 received a CD from campaigners in support for the geriatric Umno candidate on election day itself.
If to have voters register is to have them vulnerable to being put on mailing lists of political campaigns via the Election Commission (EC), it is not a worthwhile plan unless, somehow, voters can send a request to the EC or the political campaigners to not spam their e-mail and mail addresses.
Seriously, do people need more spam?
Do we truly need to allow people to be spammed by politics as well?
While we do have close to 5 million unregistered eligible voters according to the EC and other interested parties, it is a huge question for 11 million registered voters. Do they agree to their names and addresses being made use of for political campaigning, similar to how they agree to brochures being sent to their homes?
It’s an important decision. Having our information, our names and home addresses, is a question of private information and unnecessary in many cases for the availability of political parties.
Are we agreeable or even bit unnerved by this?
Sure, I do reveal my personal data on Facebook, but I definitely make sure that such details are only made available to those in close contact with me or my friends. Besides, I’m a diehard fan of Pak Lah’s call for transparency with a clause to allow free will and control who gets to see my data.
It is up to each person’s privacy settings. Plus, it also gives me control over blocking individuals, which given my opinionated persona, is definitely a must.
If we truly want to talk about voter registration, let it be done when such matters are raised and start developing in an individual mind — when one enters university.
While the University and University College Act (UUCA ) stops students from participating in partisan politics, college and universities pose the proper platform to make students politically active to discuss and debate the issues surrounding the development of the nation. This is due to the fact that whatever they learn, whatever their line of study, can have a connection to political issues.
Therefore, if we truly want to encourage our younger generation to be politically active by registering to vote, it will make no sense to do so by forcing the registration to vote on them. That merely makes them lemmings for manipulation by either side.
It’s wiser to give the EC enough funds send out mailed reminders to eligible voters to register in order to exercise their given right as citizens to determine the ruling government.
And while I do promote transparency by the EC, one has to wonder if political campaigns and the EC alike are willing to include a clause that individual voters’ private information will not be used for spamming. Either that, or allow individuals the free will to tell political entities and the EC to remove themselves from the mailing lists.

* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.