A recent Malaysiakini article on how the Sabah state election seeded the third Covid wave highlighted the reason: “interstate travel … allowed returnees from Sabah to seed new outbreaks in other states.”
This ties to the problem of voters’ addresses in our electoral roll not reflecting the reality of residence. In August 2020, Senator Donald Peter Mojuntin stated that 18% of Sabahan voters do not reside in Sabah.
One of the major grumbles from Sabahans over the snap elections was the cost of exercising their voting right. Malaysians are failing to fulfil a simple responsibility – updating their voting address.
According to the law, a Malaysian citizen qualifies to be an elector upon reaching the age of 21 years and residing in a constituency.
This is explicit in Article 119 of the Federal Constitution, which defines the qualifying date as the date when one applies to be an elector or requests for a change of constituency. Before 1960, the article required the elector to be residing in a constituency for at least six months before qualifying. In the current version, the residency term limit has been removed.
Article 119 (1) must be read together with the Elections (Registration of Electors) Regulations 2002. Regulation 12 (1) states: “(an elector) who desires to transfer his registration to a different locality in which he is qualified to be registered to forward personally his application to the Registrar of the registration area or the Assistant Registrar of the registration unit in which he is qualified as an elector or to any Registrar of any registration area or any other Assistant Registrar of any registration unit.”
Herein lies the problem. The onus to update the voting address rests in the hands of the voters themselves. The new Election Commission appointed after the 2018 general election introduced an online facility for Malaysians to update their voting address. It is for us to ensure that our electoral roll is updated.
Fundamental to free and fair elections is the integrity of the electoral roll. An electoral roll should reflect the current voter distribution. Our electoral roll is a hybrid of a current roll and the archival roll listing long-lost buildings, addresses and settlements.
Those of us were following election news leading up to the 2018 general election were fully aware of ”One Malaysia” houses hosting mixed ethnicities and overpopulated houses with an enormous number of residents. Following the election, Tindak Malaysia discovered similar issues in Rantau, Cameron Highlands and Chini.
While the Election Commission promptly did a ground search on our Rantau findings, they could not remove doubtful electors or update their addresses due to restrictions in Regulation 12 (1).
Laws must be amended to ensure legitimate voting addresses. Malaysians should also do their part to ensure that their registered MyKad address and their voting address reflect their current residence. Let’s permanently ditch the idea of associating our voting right with our original state if we no longer live in our hometown.
Here’s why you need to update your voting address:
- You should vote for the leaders in your current constituency, who represent you geographically. If you are a Sabahan or Sarawakian residing more than 90 days in Kuala Lumpur, you should prompty update your MyKad address and relocate your voting rights to Kuala Lumpur. If you are a Kelantanese residing in Shah Alam, the state politics of Selangor has a far greater impact on you than your once-in-five-years effort to vote in Kelantan
- You don’t want suspicious voters to appear on the electoral roll, so please don’t be a suspicious voter yourself by remaining an out-of-town voter. We have an Election Commission that takes the accuracy of the electoral roll seriously. They have made voting registration and address updates accessible through an online platform. Become part of the solution, not the problem
- The parties you support might want to extend their reach. As Warisan and Upko from Sabah spread their wings to Peninsular Malaysia, it would make sense for Sabahans in Peninsular Malaysia to support them here, not in Sabah. Regional parties can go beyond their shores and compete in new areas. This will offer more options for voters to choose from. The burden of mobilising out-of-town voters to return for an election will be eased
- For effective polling logistics planning, it is important that the Election Commission knows the correct voter population in each locale. If the electoral roll reflects current distribution of residents, it can allocate polling resources more effectively
- If you want fair electoral boundaries that don’t discriminate based on residence, your voting address must be current. The 13th Schedule of the Federal Constitution requires that the current voter roll be used to determine the distribution of electors in the state
- It is more cost-effective to vote in your locale rather than voting in your hometown. Instead of flying across the South China Sea or getting stuck in traffic jams across Peninsular Malaysia, it is wiser for you to vote according to your current residence
- You can become eligible for some state benefits or welfare programmes. For example, the Penang state government iSejahtera welfare programme requires the beneficiary to be a registered voter in Penang. Selangor’s Kasih Ibu Smart Selangor, which helps poor single women or women with families, is available to registered voters in Selangor
While the responsibility may seem trivial or non-essential, the consequences of updating the voting address are far-reaching.
Once you move to a new place, please update your MyKad address through the National Registration Department and subsequently, update your voting address on the mysprdaftar website or the post office. Please update your voting address even if it involves a change of unit in the same building.
Don’t remain as a suspicious voter or an out-of-town voter. Become a voter who determines your local representative and be part of the solution that we badly need.
Danesh Prakash Chacko is Tindak Malaysia’s director and research analyst at the Jeffrey Sachs Center on Sustainable Development (Sunway University). SV Singam is part of Tindak Malaysia’s leadership group