Saturday , March 2 2024

Why doesn’t Taiwan allow absentee voting?

On November 26th millions of Taiwanese will wake up early to travel the length and breadth of the 13,800 square mile island off the east coast of China, returning to hometowns near and far – just to cast a ballot.

Some might even fly in from overseas to be heard in what equates to the recent US midterms; with local councillors as well as small town and big city mayors across the country throwing their hat into the electoral ring.

And all because in the third decade of the 21st century, a nation hailed as one of the most technologically advanced on earth – think global semiconductor hub – still refuses to employ absentee voting.

According to Taiwan’s Central Election Commission (CEC) – by way of a homepage last updated in November 2017(!): “Electronic voting (is) not implemented” and “In all types of elections, the electors shall mark their paper ballots using the marking tool provided by the Election Commissions. Electronic voting has not yet been implemented in Taiwan.”

Absentee voting in any form is banned in Taiwan, with the same CEC going on to say in similarly blunt terms “Absentee Voting not implemented” although not quite telling the truth in the subsequent “Electors must vote in person at their city or county of residence’s polling booth on Election Day. Absentee voting is not implemented in Taiwan.”

In fact, an old fashioned system of household registration means that place of ‘residence’ oftentimes has little to do with where you are ‘registered’ as living for tax and other purposes … and is more akin to recording areas of ancestral lineage … thus the need for millions to take to the highways, and fill buses and trains to capacity just to pop a piece of paper in a box in a town they no longer, or may never have, called home.

Efforts were made to change things most recently in August 2020, when a bill – not the first – to allow absentee voting was submitted to Taiwan’s Executive Yuan; the nation’s executive branch headed by a Premier appointed by the President.

At the time hopes were high according to reports that a referendum initially planned for year later would be the first beneficiary of Taiwan dragging its polling system into the second half of the 20th Century – over 20 years after much of the rest of the world had moved into the 21st Century.

Then ….. nothing happened. As such Taiwan remains, electorally at least mired in the early 20th Century.

Seven years prior to the 2020, bid to allow absentee voting, then Premier Jiang Yi-huah marked similar efforts at modernization by saying “I hope this system will make it more convenient for people to vote, expand political participation and advance Taiwan’s democracy.”

Efforts by Jiang and his ruling ‘Blue’ Kuomintang Party (KMT) came to naught, when soon after, in 2016, the current ruling ‘Green’ Democratic Progressive Party came to power.

Efforts at promoting absentee voting since seem to have stalled altogether.

This is most clearly evidenced by the aforementioned largely cosmetic efforts seen in 2020, when the Executive Yuan under Premier, Su Tseng-chang of the DPP, was last called upon to act.

Two years further on, and now six years into a DPP government, with another ‘mid-term’ looming, the only beneficiaries on the day will be domestic transportation providers making millions from a sudden increase in passengers.

Meanwhile, the general populace will still be deprived of its right to vote should they not be able to turn up in person at polling stations in towns they may not have visited in years.

Sidestepping the irony of the ‘Democratic’ and ‘Progressive’ monikers seeming to count for little vis-a-vis Taiwan’s absentee voting absurdities under the ruling DPP, the party more intent on offering equal access to all at the ballot box, on the surface at least, is now the Chinese Nationalist KMT.

Yet whilst this is a fact that will will only serve to rankle DPP supporters, it is a reality supported by a recent paper published by Taiwan Insight, the online magazine of the University of Nottingham’s Taiwan Studies Program.

Released in May of this year, Dr Julia Marinaccio of the University of Bergen, and Dr Phil. Jens Damm at the European Research Centre on Contemporary Taiwan stated that “Over the past two decades, the KMT emerged as the most prominent advocate of absentee voting.”

They are not wrong.

And although the same paper does highlight Taiwan’s oft-seen ‘power at all costs’ political MO on both sides of the Blue-Green divide as being a contributing factor behind a lack of progress in legislation towards allowing absentee voting in 2022, one fact remains; an estimated one in three votes cast on November 26th will represent the voices of non-residents in districts up and down Taiwan.

Roughly 30% of votes cast will be in no way related to an individual’s actual place of residence!

But all evidence currently points to this being the way the DPP wants it.

The question is … why?

About Mark Buckton

Mark Buckton is a British national based in Taipei, Taiwan. Mark is a longtime writer and editor who has contributed to media including BBC, CNN, Japan Times, Taipei Times and Taiwan Times. He is also the founder of the UK's first ever Conservative Party branch in Taiwan.

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