Taipei, Dec. 3 (CNA) The long lines at polling stations during Taiwan's local elections on Nov. 24 have sparked debate over whether the next presidential and legislative elections will be held on the same day, but an answer will likely have to wait until June 2019.
Acting Central Election Commission (CEC) Chairman Chen Chiao-chien (陳朝建) said in response to questions at a legislative hearing that based on its operating procedures, the CEC will not begin to collect opinions on the matter until early next year.
That means the decision on whether to hold the next presidential and legislative elections together or separately will be made in June, when election dates will be announced, Chen said at a hearing of the Legislature's Internal Administration Committee.
If the two elections were to be held separately, the legislative elections could take place in November 2019 and the presidential election could be held in March the following year, he said.
If the two elections were to be held together, election day would be sometime in January 2020, Chen added.
The first time the presidential and legislative elections were held together was in 2012 to make the process more efficient and prevent the waste of manpower and money from holding two separate elections within a matter of months.
Chen was CEC vice chairman before taking his current post after the previous chief, Chen In-chin (陳英鈐), resigned on Nov. 25 to take responsibility for the fiasco that occurred when voters cast ballots for local officials and referendums a day earlier.
Long lines were seen at polling stations around the country but especially in Taipei, where voters had to wait on line for up to two to three hours before casting their ballots.
Many were still on line at 4 p.m., when polling stations were supposed to close, and the last ballot in Taipei was cast at around 7:46 p.m.
Yet, vote counting began soon after 4 p.m. and results were made public shortly after, giving those still on line the chance to check up-to-date election results on their mobile phones.
In addition, election workers did not finish counting the votes until 3:02 a.m. the following day, the longest count in Taiwan's history.
In Taipei, Kuomintang (KMT) mayoral candidate Ting Shou-chung (丁守中) has demanded a recount and is planning to file suit to have the result of the Taipei mayoral race annulled.
He has argued that votes should not have been counted until after all votes were cast to avoid influencing the votes of people still on line.
He believes voters lined up after 4 p.m. were able to see that the Democratic Progressive Party's candidate Yao Wen-chih (姚文智) was far behind both him and independent incumbent Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲), and that those inclined to vote for Yao may have shifted their support to Ko to prevent Ting from winning.
Ting ended up losing Ko by a margin of 0.23 percent, or 3,254 votes out of 1,414,816 valid ballots cast, according to CEC data.
The total number of valid votes cast was 80,000 fewer than in 2014, a sizable drop not seen in any of Taiwan's five other major metropolitan areas this year, suggesting some voters may have been deterred by the long lines.
At Monday's legislative hearing, the acting CEC chairman defended the vote counting process, which he said was in line with the Civil Servants Election And Recall Act.
The act stipulates that "after the voting is finished, a polling station shall be immediately transformed into a ballot counting station to count the ballots in public."
KMT Legislator Lin Yi-hua (林奕華) argued, however, that the law only requires the opening of a ballot counting station but does not require immediate vote counting.
Chen did not directly address her criticism, saying only that "in the past, counting immediately followed the conclusion of voting."
Facing other lawmakers' questioning about the latest election flaws, Chen admitted that the CEC failed to follow standard procedures, and he promised a thorough review.
Before the hearing, the CEC delivered a written report to the legislative committee that blamed the voting chaos on several factors, including that a third of the more than 290,000 people serving at polling stations had no experience in handling elections.