Of indelible ink and spoilt votes

Date of article: About 1 week before May 5, 2013


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VALIDITY ISSUE: With just one week to go before Malaysians go to the polls, and with this being the first time that indelible ink will be used, confusion and fear about smudging ballot papers with undried ink is spreading across cyberspace. Aniza Damis speaks to Election Commission deputy chairman Datuk Wan Ahmad Wan Omar and looks at what spoils a vote

THE Internet is a fascinating place for voter education. Besides heavyweight issues of how to gauge a representative's performance for the past term and how to evaluate manifestos, numerous voter awareness groups' websites and ordinary Facebook shares also teach simple practical things, like how to register as a voter/overseas voter, how to check for one's polling station, and even how to accept a ballot paper from the polling clerk.

"Hold your ballot paper this way to avoid spoilt votes", goes one pictorial FB share, showing an inky finger pointing straight up, while the thumb and middle finger hold the ballot paper.

It's an awkward way to hold a piece of paper, and not a socially sensible suggestion either, as pointed out by Facebook user Tharma Lingam, who commented, "Use your Right hand to hold the paper. Do everything with the Right hand only bros."

Although there is only a small percentage of left-handed people in the population (and this is why the Election Commission decided that it would be the index finger on the left hand that would be marked), fear that wet ink would smear or smudge the ballot paper and spoil the vote is a valid concern because this is the first time that voters here will be inked, and the common man does not know how long it takes before the ink dries.

"It takes only two seconds," said Election Commission deputy chairman Datuk Wan Ahmad Wan Omar.

"We have tried it already many times. I've tried it personally.

"During the process of waiting for the ballot paper to be detached from the ballot book, the ink will dry.

"So, the perception (that the ink will smudge the ballot paper) is unfounded. There is nothing for voters to worry about.

"I can give the voters my assurance on this," said Wan Ahmad.

"If a voter is not confident that the ink dries fast, he can stand there and make sure it is dry (before taking the ballot paper).

"Even if there is the accidental smudge on the ballot paper, or if it isn't 100 per cent clean, the voter can ask for another ballot paper," Wan Ahmad added. (The first ballot paper will then be cancelled with a stamp.)

Even so, he said it was the responsibility of the voter to make sure the ink was dry and to hold the ballot paper properly. It was all within the control of the voter.

"Unless you want to deliberately smudge it to make a political statement."

Responding to queries on why the ink is applied before voting instead of after, as is done in other countries, Wan Ahmad said the EC took into consideration the experiences of these countries, which found that if the ink were allowed to be applied after the voter had cast his vote, some voters just walked out without having their fingers inked.

"So, who is going to go after them? Then what happens? That defeats the purpose of having the ink, doesn't it?"

Wan Ahmad said that voters should also not worry that the ballot paper would have any markings or defects because every ballot paper in every ballot book was checked by EC staff before it was allowed to leave the printers to make sure that it is clean and clear of any error.

This was to make sure there was "no avenue or element of doubt, and no controversy at the polling station".

Polling clerks issuing ballot papers have also been trained not to have any pen or pencil with them to avoid the suspicion of ballot papers being marked in any way, said Wan Ahmad.

On the allegation that polling clerks folded ballot papers before giving them to voters, Wan Ahmad said, "Rubbish. We have trained them not to do that. The voter himself is supposed to fold the paper twice before putting it in the ballot box."

Ballot papers are supposed to be folded in half vertically, and then folded in half again horizontally, to ensure the secrecy of the ballot.

However, with thousands of polling clerks in 26,000 polling stations, Wan Ahmad did not discount the possibility that some polling clerks would fold the ballot paper to help older voters.

"You can ask the clerk not to fold the paper."

Wan Ahmad said if any non-governmental organisation or leaders had any doubts, "Please come to my office. Let me explain one by one".

How to make your mark

OFFICIALLY, the way to indicate your choice for a candidate is to mark an "X" in the empty box to the right of the chosen candidate's symbol.

However, not all voters seem capable of doing this, with some putting a tick, dot or circling the name of the candidate or the symbol, or even enthusiastically doing all three.

As long as the intention of the voter is clear, and as long as marks have not been made for both candidates, the vote is generally accepted. This is done on the agreement of all the representatives' polling agents.

In every election, hundreds of thousands of votes are spoilt. In some constituencies, the number of spoilt votes can even exceed the majority won by the candidate.
Be mindful of that inky finger! A few reminders not to stain the ballot paper with indelible ink are being circulated on Facebook.

Read more: Of indelible ink and spoilt votes - General - New Straits Times http://www.nst.com.my/nation/general...#ixzz2dax9Xnbc