Officials support absentee ballot idea

By Ann Yu ,The China Post

TAIPEI, Taiwan — Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) commented that he fully supported New Taipei City Mayor Eric Chu’s suggestions to allow absentee ballots in the referendum on the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant.

President Ma Ying-jeou also showed support for the proposal.

An absentee vote is a mechanism in which voters are allowed to cast ballots for their candidates without appearing at the polling station in person. In most countries, voters who are eligible for absentee ballots are obligated to provide valid reasons for their absences.

“I am completely supportive of this suggestion, and fairly optimistic about it, if the Legislature approves it,” Jiang said.

“I had been pushing for an absentee ballot during my tenure as head of the Ministry of the Interior (MOI),” he explained. “It is a method through which to improve voter turnout, ensuring higher national participation.” As for amendments to the Referendum Act, Jiang insisted that any threshold on voter turnout numbers, which must be met for a referendum to be valid, stay high. “I will respect what the Legislature decides,” he said. In Taiwan, the number of ballots cast must exceed half of the entire nation’s eligible voters for the result of a referendum to take effect.

Jiang said that if the referendum does include absentee votes, certain clauses will need to be adjusted as well as certain changes in procedure, adding that citizens will have to be informed and the organization of polling stations will have to be altered. Hopefully, this time, more people will be willing to participate in the referendum, Jiang said, so that citizens can fully discuss and understand the Nuke 4 issue in a more unbiased scope. This is the first time a referendum request is not related to a presidential election, the premier claimed.

This is the true meaning of democracy, Jiang said at an interpellation session at the Legislative Yuan. A democracy means people have the right to hear all sides of the story before making their electoral decision, he explained. At the end, the side with lesser votes cedes to the side with more votes, he said, adding that this method ensures decisions happen. This country is mature enough to practice democracy, Jiang said.

MOI in-line with Absentee Ballot Interior Minister Lee Hong-yuan (李鴻源) said Taiwan’s absentee ballot system has not matured yet and would require a significant amount of work to be ready for the referendum.

Officials explained that the MOI has been trying to draft absentee voting policy for a long time, with considerations including whether to restrict absentee voting to only those who still reside in Taiwan or to allow voters to transfer to another polling station upon request.

Methods of absentee voting include telecommunications voting; proxy voting, in which someone else votes on your behalf; early voting; specifying the polling district in which one wants to vote; and transfer voting, in which people in other regions may register to transfer to another polling station. Department of Civil Affairs Director Huang Li-hsin (黃麗馨) predicted that it would take at least five months before absentee voting could properly carried out in Taiwan, but it was doable.

Cabinet Deputy Secretary-General Chien Tai-lang (簡太郎) said the Cabinet has no draft amendments it would like to propose for the Referendum Act. The Cabinet’s standpoint is that it does not want to change the current threshold, he explained. (Related story on page 20)