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Review criteria for polling stations; speed up ballot counting

File photograph: Malay Mail Online

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Will a new dawn bring about greater sensitivity and efficiency from the Electoral Commission, wonders Khong Kah Yeong.

I hope, with a new leadership of the Electoral Commission, there will be a review of its operational procedures, especially in the selection of venues for polling stations and the counting of ballot papers.

In the recent general election, there were polling stations where it was a challenge for the physically challenged, especially wheelchair-bound voters, to reach the polling room. In the place where I voted, a polling room was located upstairs in a school with a narrow staircase leading to that floor. To reach the stairs, you had to cross a drain. There was also no shelter from the sun or the rain for the long queue of voters.

As for the counting of votes, I was puzzled why at a certain counting centre, there were several recounts before the winner, who happened to be the incumbent, was declared the winner.

If I am not mistaken (I must confess that I am just conjecturing here as I had witnessed only one counting process and that too many decades ago), the counting process starts with the unsealing of ballot boxes one at a time.

The ballot papers are poured out onto a table, and each ballot paper is shown to the representatives of the candidates to show the preference of the voter or to indicate why that ballot paper is deemed invalid.

The ballot paper is then put into the appropriate place/tray allocated to each candidate. At this stage hardly any mistake occurs because the candidate’s representative will ensure that his or her candidate’s ballot is put in the correct place.

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The ballot papers are then counted manually by the counting officers all of whom have very nimble fingers flipping through each stack of the ballots efficiently and counting them at the same time.

It is puzzling why, with the availability of so many types of reliable counting machines (at least so far I have not benefited from any miscount by any of the machines in the bank I go to!), there is still a need to count by hand. Can’t the ballot papers be redesigned to the size of our bank notes to take advantage of these machines?

After all, unlike in some countries where 10-20 candidates vying for a single seat is the norm, there must be few places in our country with more than three or four candidates. If that’s the case, ballot papers the size of a bank note should be able to fit the names and symbols of the candidates on one page.

With this change in the size of the ballot papers, the counting can surely be completed within an hour if not minutes, even with a compulsory recount, where the margin of victory is narrow.

As for the inking of voters’ fingers, is it possible to re-position the assistant doing that job to a place nearer the exit, where the voter is moving out of the room after he or she has cast his vote? After all, the aim of inking the finger is to show that the person has voted (note the operative words “has voted”) and thus not eligible to vote again at another station. This new sequence will avoid the accidental smudging of the ballot paper rendering it spoilt.

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Will a new dawn bring about greater efficiency from the Electoral Commission?

Khong Kah Yeong is an Aliran newsletter subscriber.

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