Voters Registration Should be Automatic but Voting Should not be Compulsory

The Coalition for Free and Fair Elections (BERSIH 2.0) is encouraged that the new Election Commission (EC) chairman, Datuk Seri Mohd. Hashim Abdullah, in an exclusive interview with The Sun published on 4th April 2016, is considering some radical changes to bring the election process on par with matured democracies.
Among the changes the EC is considering is to make it compulsory for registered voters to vote, noting that only 11.3 million (85%) of the 13.3 million registered voters came out to vote at the last General Election.
While BERSIH 2.0 also wishes that there would be a 100% voters turnout, the reality in most mature democracies is that one would never get 100% turnout. We should respect the citizen’s fundamental right to choose if they want to participate in an election or not and as such we oppose any attempts to make voting compulsory.
However, BERSIH 2.0 agrees with automatic registration as it recognises the right to vote and gives voters voting option. We urge the EC to implement it as soon as possible, given that there are over 4 million eligible voters still not registered and around 450,000 citizens turn 21 and become eligible each year.
Implementing automatic registration of new voters would eliminate the current but slow process of registering through EC’s mobile units, appointed Assistant Registrar Officers (AROs) and Post Offices. Clearly current channels are not effective in clearing up the accumulating backlog of unregistered voters.
In order to allay any concerns that there might be manipulation of the national register of citizenship on the part of the National Registration Department (NRD), the EC must put in place safeguards to ensure that only real citizens are allowed to take part in our elections.
One of the safeguard is the verification of voters at polling stations before they are allowed to cast their votes. This could be done through their MyKad and fingerprint, a normal and compulsory procedure for verification today for most official matters.
On the EC chairman’s other idea of bringing the ballot paper and box to the disabled and physically impaired (OKU) on polling day, it is the view of BERSIH 2.0 that this would involve integrity issues as well as complex logistical matters and as such should not be considered. It would be better to ensure that all polling stations are OKU-friendly.
BERSIH 2.0 further urges the EC chairman to take up four important issues that would further broaden the universal suffrage of a citizen’s right to vote.
Firstly, to allow East Malaysians living and working in the Peninsula to vote for their constituencies in Sabah and Sarawak without having to travel back at great expense to cast their votes or to change their voting constituencies to the Peninsula. They must be given the right to participate in the electing of representatives who would be the voices of their communities. This would also be true for West Malaysians in Sabah and Sarawak.
Secondly, to propose to Parliament to lower the eligible voting age to 18. This would be consistent with other laws where age limitations apply to marriage, driving, drinking or even the death penalty. Youth today are better informed and should be encouraged to participate in the election process.
Thirdly, in the interim period while EC makes preparation for automatic registration, Assistant Registrar Officers (AROs) should be re-established for all political parties and not be limited to selected civil society organisations, companies and youth groups. This is to help speed up voters registration.
Fourthly, there is a necessity to minimize advance voters and accord them as ordinary voters so as to enhance secrecy of votes. Soldiers and their spouses are not required on polling day and they should be allowed to vote as ordinary voters.
These changes together with those recommended in the Parliament select Committee on Electoral Reform if implemented would be laudable and goes a long way to restore the public’s confidence in the EC. A clear electoral reform road map is required otherwise such grand statement would be reduced to doubt-casting promises.
BERSIH 2.0 is committed to seeing the election process improved and would be more than willing to engage with the EC to ensure that our elections would be truly free and fair to all Malaysians.
Issued by:-
The BERSIH 2.0 Steering Committee