Nail-biting wait for postal ballots

(The Star) – AS the clock ticks towards the Nov 19 polling date, it has become a race against time for overseas voters to get their postal ballots back to Malaysia on time. Worse, some of them have yet to even receive the ballot papers.

The delay may dash the hopes of many Malaysians abroad who want to exercise their responsibility by casting their votes in the 15th General Election (GE15).

A scroll through social media platforms showed that Malaysians from different parts of the world, including Australia, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates, are complaining about waiting for their ballot papers to arrive.

Some even shared screencaps of the tracking status which showed the papers being stuck in transit or yet to leave Malaysia.

The tracking status of one Malaysian in Saudi Arabia showed that the ballot paper would reach him on polling day, way too late for him to return it to Malaysia.

What is more surprising is that even voters across the Causeway are facing such delays.

Many votes look likely to go to waste as the mail will arrive a little too late.

Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih) chairman Thomas Fann said the election watchdog has been getting reports that postal voters around the world are still waiting to receive their ballot papers.

“Even more worrying is that some complaints are from Singapore, which is usually the first to receive them.”

The issuance of postal ballots for the 222 parliamentary seats and 117 state constituencies being contested have been going on since Nov 7.

Fann said the papers should have reached their destination within two to four days from Nov 7.

“The EC has to explain to the public.”

It’s not a new issue. It happened in GE14 – when many made their own arrangements to ship their votes back home with some flying into KL with the ballot papers – and even in the Melaka and Sarawak state elections .

The completed ballots will have to reach the returning officers by 5pm on Nov 19.

Voters have been tagging the Election Commission (EC) on social media, seeking a solution to their predicament. The media, too, is trying to seek an explanation from the EC. So far, both sides have been unsuccessful.

There are 48,109 voters abroad. That’s not a large number but, like they say, every vote counts and the postal votes have the potential to make a difference in the outcome.

Just like in May 2018, Malaysians are leaving no stones unturned to have their voices heard, with many volunteering to ferry votes by flying in to Malaysia.

That’s laudable but that should not be the norm. It’s time for the EC to end its deafening silence on the matter and find a solution to this problem that has cropped up time and again.

Longer campaign periods of at least 21 days may help, especially in times like now when mail systems around the world have been flooded and clogged with goods and mail while physical movement of people have been restricted by the Covid-19 virus.

Another possible solution, although controversial, could be Internet voting (i-voting).

Although many of the world’s most advanced nations are still using paper ballots, Estonia became the first in the world to hold legally binding national polls through the i-voting system since 2005.

The system enables the northeastern European country’s citizens to cast their votes from wherever they are in the world.

However, it is not fail-safe. Cybersecurity experts have raised the alarm over security measures and possible breaches.

While the system is still in its infancy, the concept can be explored in Malaysia.

Perhaps what it takes is to develop a foolproof security system, which will ensure there are no breaches or hacking and that confidentiality of voters is not compromised.

A more plausible solution could be to have Malaysian embassies coordinate the voting process in different countries.

Fann also said a better process has to be introduced. He said Bersih had also proposed that the EC allow postal voters to download the PDF version of their ballots and Borang 2 immediately after nomination day.

This, he said, could save on delivery time and would also be cost-effective and eliminate human errors.

“We have also been calling for a longer campaign for this very reason,” he said.

It’s not just the public abroad.

Even some media personnel registered as domestic postal voters are still waiting for their ballots to arrive via mail. Some have been told their ballots have been sent to a different address.

Can we afford such glitches?

The country needs every Malaysian to exercise their responsibility. And it needs the EC to ensure they do.