OPINION: Time for Taiwan to End Restrictions on Early and Absentee Voting

OPINION: Time for Taiwan to End Restrictions on Early and Absentee Voting
Credit: Reuters / TPG
What you need to know

No early voting and no absentee ballots make it impossible for many citizens to exercise their right to vote.

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Elections are the busiest periods for news journalists. Every reporter must support their news outlet by following different leads and engaging in interviews, even if they don’t have a background in politics. Those who do specialize in political reporting are likely to be working 24/7 throughout that period.

On election day in Taiwan, journalists and editors will often try to find the time to sneak away from work and vote. However, if a reporter’s hometown is in another county or city, they are forced to give up that sacred vote.

I have had the right to vote for eight years. Until this year, I have never been able to exercise that right.

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Credit: AP / TPG
Voters in the Philippines, which allows early voting, locate their polling stations.

My hometown is in Chiayi County, and the 2010 mayoral elections were the first elections held after I had reached voting age. At the time, I was interning at a radio station. On that day, I was assisting with an interview, so I was unable to go home and vote.

Four years later, during the 2014 regional elections, I was working as a TV reporter. On the day of the elections, I was in Yunlin reporting on the lead up to the voting and had to stay for the results. During the 2016 presidential election, I was busy in Taipei supporting other interviews.

I have had the right to vote for eight years. Until this year, I have never been able to exercise that right.

In all three of these elections, I was unable to vote as I was stationed in a different city for work, so it was impossible to return home. So my Filipino colleague was surprised when I recently told him: “This year is the first time I have ever voted!” His immediate reaction was to say it was ridiculous that reporters couldn’t vote. After all, we always urge our readers and viewers to never give up their right to vote – as citizens, is it not both our obligation and our responsibility to vote?

In 2013, the Philippines began allowing members of the media to vote early as long as they registered beforehand. That year, 366 journalists registered for early voting, accounting for 3.14 percent of all local absentee voting applications, with 55 of those registered in the Greater Manila area. Election day that year was May 13, but those who had successfully registered for early voting could vote from April 28 to April 30.

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Credit: AP / TPG
Filipino election staff making final checks to ballot boxes before counting votes in the 2016 presidential election.

The fact that Filipino journalists could vote ahead of time made me jealous. But the reason they were able to have this regulation implemented was because, in April 2012, a group of media professionals commissioned lawyer Romulo Macalintal to submit a petition for early voting to the court. The petition mentioned how journalists were often assigned to hold interviews all over the country during election periods, which meant they could not vote. The bill was successfully passed in October 2012.

A news report that year was titled “First ever absentee voting for media.” According to statistics from the broadcaster, Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP), there were 2,319 media organizations in the Philippines, including 800 paper media outfits, 297 television stations, and 1,042 radio stations. The bill’s passage meant that more than 200,000 print, television and radio journalists could exercise their voting rights. Macalintal said at the time that 200,000 was a significant number of votes, large enough to swing an election.

In fact, in addition to media members, overseas Filipinos have also enjoyed an early voting system for many years. Take for example the 2016 presidential election: At that time, out of 54 million voters, about 1.38 million were overseas citizens, with more than 30,000 Filipino migrant workers in Taiwan voting at Manila Economic and Cultural Offices in northern, central and southern Taiwan.

In Taiwan, voting – the most basic of civil rights – is ripped from the hands of certain people due to their work obligations.

Yet many Taiwanese journalists are in the helpless situation of being effectively forced to give up their right to vote. Taiwan is very small in comparison to the Philippines, so not having overseas voting is a situation we may have to accept. However, calls for a solution to avoid the process of returning to your hometown in order to vote should not be ignored. Only election staff members are given the right to vote outside of their hometown – and no one else.

The lack of voting rights for media members in Taiwan does not receive much attention. In a country that takes pride in its democratic society, voting – the most basic of civil rights – is ripped from the hands of certain people due to their work obligations. When compared with voting practices in the Philippines, Taiwan is far from being progressive in ensuring the democratic rights of its citizens.

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Credit: AP / TPG
Ballot boxes were placed in a temporary warehouse during the Philippines 2016 presidential election.

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This article was awarded the Foundation for Excellent Journalism Award and was originally published on their website here. It previously appeared here on the Chinese-language ASEAN edition of The News Lens.

Translator: Zeke Li

Editor: Nick Aspinwall (@Nick1Aspinwall)

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