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ELECTION 2024/Taiwan's manual ballot counting ensures transparency: Observers

01/14/2024 10:04 PM
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CNA photo Jan. 13, 2024
CNA photo Jan. 13, 2024

Taipei, Jan. 14 (CNA) Taiwan's manual method of counting votes, where poll workers read out each ballot while displaying them for public scrutiny, contributes to transparency and contrasts favorably with more high-tech vote counting methods, election observers said.

Taiwan elected a new president and 113 legislators Saturday, casting just over 42 million ballots in the process across 17,795 polling stations, and several observers were on hand to see how the process worked.

Taipei-based German journalist Klaus Bardenhagen told CNA on Saturday that manual ballot counting in Taiwan was good for transparency and ensured that elections are not tampered with.

"Germany also uses paper ballots only, but some other countries who insist on voting machines could learn that low-tech does the job perfectly here," Bardenhagen said.

Echoing Bardenhagen, Celito Arlegue, a Filipino member of an election observation team, noted that Taiwan's vote proceeds "in a very transparent way," while in the Philippines vote counting is done by a machine.

"If you can tamper with the system that does the counting, then you can easily manipulate the results of the elections," argued Arlegue, the executive director of the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats (CALD), a regional organization of liberal democratic political parties in Asia.

"Given what we're witnessing here, the officials from the Liberal Party of the Philippines who joined us in this mission, as well as in the previous election, are calling for a return to manual counting," the activist said.

Canada-based vlogger and political commentator Wen Zhao (文昭), who was also in Taiwan to observe its elections, said Taiwan has held many elections on its road to democratization, and the opaqueness that used to plague the vote-counting process sparked many controversies.

圖說

Taiwan's wealth of experience in ensuring that elections are fair and faithfully reflect public opinion is a "valuable asset" for Chinese communities and could serve as a reference to other democratic countries, he said.

In Taiwan, polling stations are open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and once the polls close, workers at each station open each box of ballots and call out the number of the candidate voted for while displaying the ballot for monitors from each party to see.

At the same time, the vote is manually recorded on a paper hanging on the wall.

Additionally, bringing campaign-related items such as clothing, hats, or fans into polling stations on election day is strictly prohibited.

Wen Zhao
Wen Zhao

One possible flaw in the system, however, is the lack of either absentee or early voting.

That means Taiwanese citizens living overseas must fly home to vote and those whose household is registered in a place different from where they live may have to travel hundreds of kilometers to vote.

Kharis Templeman, a research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, argued that there were two reasons why absentee voting could be problematic for Taiwan -- vote buying concerns and coercion from China.

"It's very easy to take a photo of an absentee ballot, and fill it out while somebody else is watching you," Templeman, who was in Taiwan to observe the election, told CNA on Sunday.

If absentee ballots go to Taiwanese voters who live in China, they may be pressured to vote a certain way, he said.

The CALD's Arlegue disagreed, however, arguing that the authorities should make it convenient for overseas voters to cast ballots, while maintaining the integrity of the vote.

"It is very basic," he said.

Celito Arlegue
Celito Arlegue

Taking the Philippines as an example, a country with a large number of overseas voters, he said the majority of them cannot return to the Philippines to cast their votes due to work requirements.

"I think we will disenfranchise a significant portion of the Filipino population if we don't have this absentee voting system," Arlegue said.

(By Chung Yu-chen)

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