Time has come for absentee voting

By Joe hung

An absentee ballot is a vote cast by an eligible voter who is unable or unwilling to visit their designated polling station. Numerous methods have been devised to facilitate absentee voting. Increasing the ease of access to absentee ballots is seen by many as one way to improve voter turnout, though some countries require that a valid reason, such as infirmity or travel, be given before a voter can participate in an absentee ballot. Many countries in the world have such a law to let every one of their citizens vote in national elections. The United States, for instance, has the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) dealing with elections and voting rights for American citizens residing overseas. Signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1986, the UOCAVA allows members of the armed forces, members of the merchant marine, their eligible family members, U.S, citizens employed by the federal government residing outside the United States and other private citizens living abroad. It is a pity that Taiwan doesn’t have an absentee voting act. In this column, I have called for absentee voting a couple of times. The first call appeared more than a decade ago. No politicians cared, of course, for they never read the op-ed page of The China Post and some vernacular newspapers in Taipei. Until Eric Chu, mayor of New Taipei City, pointed out the important linkage between absentee voting and a large voter turnout in an article in the op-ed page of The China Times.

The reason for an absentee voting act, he argues is practical, but I have argued for it because depriving a citizen of his voting right by ordering him to vote in an election district where he has his household registration is unconstitutional. In the United States or the United Kingdom, the law requires eligible voters to register the place where they wish to vote. They are not absentee voters, because they have to go to the polls in any election districts where they wish to cast their ballots so long as they remain in their homeland. That is why there are absentee voting acts to enable them to vote out of country.

In Taiwan, however, the voters are required to attend the polling stations in the election precincts of their abode. That is the reason why Mayor Chu wishes many nonpermanent residents of his city would not go back to their hometowns but stay in the city to vote to increase its turnout. Even government employees abroad, including ambassadors and their staff, are told to return to their homes in Taiwan if they wish to vote in a national election. The timing is just right for Chu to air the idea of absentee voting. All politicians have given an enthusiastically attentive ear to his call, aimed solely at getting a large turnout for a Kuomintang-proposed referendum intended not to be adopted so that Taiwan’s Fourth Nuclear Power Plant, known popularly as Nuke 4, at Gongliao, a small borough in his city, may be completed by the end of this year. The Kuomintang knows full well that the referendum will not pass because the turnout is sure to be less than 50 percent to invalidate it, but wishes to please the querulous anti-nuclear activists, while politicians of the Democratic Progressive Party in opposition believe they have a chance to turn the tables on the powers that be if they can get half of the electorate to go to the polls.