We all know the electoral process is not clean. It is important that we also know how they are made dirty so that we may clean it up and convince others to do so.
It’s actually not that complicated to see how votes are rigged. When I tried to understand this after 2004, I went through the documented complaints and interviews. I came out with a very complicated chart that covers all eight forms of poll rigging to help my own understanding. Over time, I believe I have become a smarter dummy that can explain it with two simple charts: “How Your Vote May Be Stolen” and “How Your Vote May Be Diluted”.
Do help me to improve if you still find them complicated.
A free and fair election is simply one that only legitimate voters can cast their ballots in equal number of times (i.e., once in Malaysia) and all ballots are cast by legitimate voters. In a constituency-based system like ours, the legitimate voters should be residents of the constituency and not elsewhere.
How your vote may be stolen
The first way to rig is therefore to reduce the number of legitimate voters if they are not on the rigger’s side. So, if you are targeted, you may be
(a) disenfranchised completely by deleting your name from the electoral roll (as in 1974) or denying/delaying your registration (as in 1999);
(b) involuntarily transfered to another constituency which you have no legitimate interests;
(c) obstructed from getting to the polls by intimidation (this generally does not happen in Malaysia) or technical obstacles (arguably, the chaos at polling stations in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur in 2004 could have produced this effect, whether or not this was intended);
(d) impersonated by others (like the three Chinese voters at Pekan Ijok who found that some else had earlier cast the ballots on their behalves);
(e) having your vote miscounted as voting for another candidate (this should not happen if the counting agents do their jobs);
(f) having your vote spoiled or discarded (again, this should not happen if the counting agents do their jobs);
As you can see, the size of the legitimate voters (yellow rectangulars) has shrunk from far left to far right as their votes were stolen in one way or another (blue borders). Impersonation and miscounting even produce extra ballots (the blue rectangular at the right) that are illegitimate to further dilute the already shrunk legitimate ballots.
To steal an election needs not always literally stealing your votes. In fact, the more ‘hi-tech’ way is to dilute your vote, because you may not realize and therefore do not feel the pain and get angry.
These are ways how your vote can be diluted:
(a) legitimate voters from others voluntarily transfer their registrations to your constituency (like inter-constituency migration) and vote there;
(b) impersonators vote on behalf of the dead voters whose names remain on the electoral roll (there were at least 180,000 such names earlier this year, according to the EC), hence the name “phantoms”;
(c) impersonators vote on behalf of those legitimate voters who have been transfered involuntarily (like abduction) to your constituency who cannot come to cast their votes, don’t bother to do so or may not even know about their new registrations;
(d) impersonators vote on behalf of illegitimately registered names, who may be foreign citizens, other ineligibles or even non-existent persons.
(e) otherwise legitimate voters register and vote in more than one constituency;
(f) ballots are stuffed into ballot boxes during or after polling (this happen in some politically-underdeveloped countries but not Malaysia; an alternative method is to have ballots added in the counting and tabulation process).
As a result, even if no legitimate voters losing their votes (the yellow rectangulars in both ends remain the same height) , the value of their voting power have been severely diluted (represented by the blue rectangular at the right).
Dilution of your voting power is analogous to the dilution of your buying power caused by circulation of counterfeit currencies by criminals or irresponsible printing of money by the government. You loose your buying power even though you do not loose your bank notes.
Political market, notwithstanding its different nature, is in fact comparable to the economic market. A voter who does not care about his/her vote being diluted is like a consumer who does not care about inflation or counterfeit currency.
What can you do if you are a smart boss to the government?
Firstly, check your own registration, make sure you are not eliminated or transferred elsewhere. If you find yourself being a victim, make a big fuss. This is just like crimes, if you do not report it, the criminals will go after others.
Secondly, help others to check their registration and identify any frauds in the rolls. If you are ICT-savvy, get in touch with groups like BERSIH, Malaysian Voters Union, People’s Parliament and Citizen Think Tank, we may need a team of volunteers later to analyze electoral rolls, especially those constituencies which the opposition stand some chances to win. If you are more like Buffet Warren than Bill Gates, you can sponsor the electoral rolls (one costing more than RM200 ) or some other election-related programmes.
Thirdly, comes next elections, offer yourself to the parties/candidates in your constituency as polling and counting agents. Polling agents sit in the polling station to mark the names on the electoral rolls every time when a voter walks in. Being a local, you can help spotting any suspicious persons. As a matter of fact, the news that plenty of locals sign up as polling agents will likely to deter the phantoms. Is it tough? No, the minimum requirement is only two hours of your time on polling day.And you will get training from the political parties or NGOs. Counting agent is the one who monitor the counting process which begins about half an hour after polling ends.
Finally, you need not wait for the elections, go out now and educate others why electoral reforms are the key to the problems we face in life: crimes, inflation, unemployment, poor public service, pollution, poverty, etc. When elections are clean and fair, political parties and politicians will have to keep us happy because we genuinely hold the power to hire and fire. Like money, clean and fair elections cannot promise you immediate solutions to these problems. But without clean and fair elections, your hope for solutions will be at the mercy of politicians. Who do you trust more, yourself or the politicians?
The crackdown on public rallies only means that we need to deepen our efforts. We need to have small group meetings. You can be an agent of change. If you think what I have learned about the electoral process is useful, I am happy to share some power-point slides which may be used for small group discussions in your own community.
This country is ours. Let’s defend her from those who try to steal it from us by stealing and diluting our votes.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!