There has been a lively debate on whether using indelible ink or biometric system will be more effective in curbing electoral frauds such as personation and multiple voting. I would like to put forward a few points here from my experience as an international election observer to dispel some myths around the issue.
Many electoral democracies in Asia have been moving towards multiple identification system to ensure voter identification is done right. Bangladesh and Philippines lead in using electoral rolls with photograph to provide easy identification of voters, on top of the usual identification card and name. As if this is not enough some countries eg Philippines require voters who have claimed their ballot to sign a receipt of the ballot to stop the same person or another person, from claiming a second ballot using the same identity. In these countries indelible ink is also used to add another layer of safeguard on voter identification, which can be utilised in the most challenging situations eg locations where there is no electricity. So the trend is towards multiple system of identification rather than relying on one supposedly sure-fire method.
In additions to the above there are also the administrative improvement to ensure that the above identification methods work. Eg Bangladesh spent half a year to renew the entire electoral roll of close to 90 million voters, ahead of their last presidential elections,to get rid of multiple registrations and other dubious registrations eg dead voters. Some countries eg Indonesia, Singapore, Australia allow automatic voter registration, while others allow quick registrations eg 1-2 days in New Zealand, so that no one citizen is denied their constitutionally guaranteed voting rights. Not only that the entire electoral system-from the appointment of election commissioners to the complaint handling mechanisms, are overhauled to ensure that electoral frauds are minimised and the results of the elections closely mirror the voters’ choices.
From the rough sketch above it is clear that the characterisation of countries which are using indelible ink as `backward’ with no identification papers is sweeping and, in most cases, factually inaccurate. It is true that some of the countries are poorer economically than Malaysia but their investment in democratic institutions are well in advanced compared to Malaysia. In fact these countries have gone beyond hard-ware dependence and adopt multiple safeguards to ensure integrity of the electoral operation. It would be most ironic if the Election Commission of Malaysia refuse to consider the use of cheap and adaptable method of indelible ink as an additional safeguard on voters identification, based on factually unsound allegation that the method is somehow `backward’ and linked to a lack of identification papers for the citizens. From the discussion above it is clear also that any voter idetification method can only work well in an electoral system where the election administration is transparent, credible, clean and fair to all.
Just for discussion: there are many polling centres in Malaysia where there is no monitoring of polling by enough Polling Agents and Counting Agents, and where the Form 14 confirming the polling results are not available immediately to all stake holders -including the candidates, due, for eg by the absence of the Counting Agents or the Counting Agents disappeared. Under such circumstance the voter identification methods would not be helpful to ensure that only bona fide voters were voting or, as a whole, to ensure the integrity of the election result.
Factually there is also no country -even so called `advanced’ democracy that choose to spend heavily on a biometric system to do voter identification. They are happy to use multiple identification system coupled with more enhanced electoral administration to ensure, as much as practicable, fraud-free elections. In comparison our choice of heavy investment into an untested biometric system which is expected to operate within an electoral administration regime which is far from international norms, let alone best practices. It seems that the decision making in this regards had headed towards wrong direction if electoral integrity is the real objective. It may be speculative that the biometric system is considered not so much for its effectiveness on voter identification but because it has already been used on millions of legal as well as illegal migrants for another purpose. Putting the tool ahead of its intended purpose is certainly not a rational let alone cost-effective method of decision making.
Just a word on the biometric system: since the system can only be used in conjunction with a computer/internet based database there are practical/logistic consideration to roll out the system in remote areas where there is no electricity, let alone internet connection. There are numerous such locations in eg interior of Sabah and Sarawak, where there is not even a computer to service the polling centers.
Malaysian Election Observers Network