PUTRAJAYA, Aug 23 — The Election Commission (EC) is currently focusing on efforts to improve the postal voting process towards strengthening the country’s electoral system.
Its deputy chairman Dr Azmi Sharom said a special committee led by EC member Datuk Chin Phaik Yoong is looking into the matter, especially to resolve various issues on postal ballot, including on voters not receiving the ballot papers.
“In the last (14th) General Election (GE14), there were many problem involving the postal voting system, with a very high percentage of postal ballot papers not reaching the voters. This should not happen,” he said in an interview with Bernama here.
Azmi said the EC took note of the matter, which was raised by several parties, including calling for the EC to consider allowing Sabah voters who are working in Sarawak and Peninsular Malaysia to vote by post in the Sabah State Election next month.
However, he said, postal voting facilities could not be given to voters outside the constituency, like constituents in the peninsula, as the existing system could not accommodate large number of postal voters.
He said the increase, from 60 to 73 seats in the Sabah State Legislative Assembly, is also a factor, apart from the EC not having the time to improve the postal voting system yet as the coming state election is a snap election.
Azmi said the EC understood the disappointment of the Sabah voters on the matter, but efforts were being made to improve the postal voting process.
“If we cannot provide a perfect and safe system, it’s more dangerous if we do something in a rush. It may cause more problems, instead of solving it.
“We want to solve one problem, but we might cause other problems. So, we better be safe than sorry. I understand, but this is my explanation, if the people of Sabah are still angry, I apologize,” he said apologetically.
The EC has set Sept 26 for the Sabah State Election, with nomination day on Sept 12 and early voting on Sept 22. There are 1.12 million registered voters in Sabah.
On the overall election system, Azmi, who is formerly a law lecturer at Universiti Malaya, said there were many improvements that had been implemented to increase the confidence of the people, including by having polling and counting agents (PACA), as well as the observer system.
According to Azmi, the presence of PACA to monitor the voting and vote counting process at every streams helped to prevent fraud.
“Before, some people said new boxes appeared and so on, but now I think it is almost impossible for that to happen because now we have Form 14 (voting statement after vote counting) which has to be signed by PACA and the polling station chief.
“If there is such a system and an observer system, those present can see what is happening, this means the voting process is more transparent. If we are open with what we are doing, it is not easy for something not good to happen,” he said.
Since his appointment as EC deputy chairman in February 2019, Azmi has handled six by-elections.
On the amendment to the Federal Constitution to lower the age limit to 18 years to vote and contest as a candidate and to allow for automatic voter registration, Azmi said the EC was working to provide a good and safe system to implement the amendment.
He said the automatic registration system is expected to be available in the middle of next year as the EC has to resolve various issues first, including problems in determining the constituency due to incomplete addresses, besides having to work with various parties, such as the National Registration Department (JPN), Ministry of Health and Prisons Department.
“If an individual is in prison, the person cannot vote, likewise those in mental hospital, we cannot register them. It’s not a simple matter of taking (data) from JPN only. The system has to be secured, so the data that is transferred is secured,” he added.
Azmi said with the implementation of the automatic voter registration system, the EC expects the number of registered voters, totalling about 15 million currently will increase to more than 19 million people, including about four million Malaysians aged 21 and above who have yet to register as voters.
The number does not include those aged 18 to 20 who are eligible to vote when the system is ready, he added.