Auto voter registration will take time and work, says EC

PETALING JAYA: The Election Commission (EC) is bracing itself for plenty of work now that the Dewan Rakyat has decided to lower the voting age from 21 to 18 and to allow for automatic voter registration.

“We have to make sure the technical aspects and the system work well before implementation,” EC deputy chairman Azmi Sharom told FMT.

He also said the transition might take a long time.

However, he welcomed the Dewan’s passage of the bill to amend the Federal Constitution to enable the changes.

He said automatic registration would reduce attempts to influence voters’ decisions at the ballot box.

“Right now, outside agencies such as political parties or NGOs can be empowered by the EC to help register people and that’s when they can try to influence new voters,” he said.

“There are also other issues such as when parties or NGOs try to target a certain demographic which suits them.

“But when it’s automatic, all this disappears because as soon as you’re 18, you’re registered and there’s no contact with anyone.”

Azmi said any voter wishing to change the district in which he votes would have to change the address on his identity card.

He spoke of the possibility of many people working in the cities making the change in their identity cards, resulting in high numbers of voters in urban areas.

“Don’t forget that many may work in cities but the addresses currently showing on their ICs may be their hometown addresses,” he said.

Bersih chairman Thomas Fann agreed that there might be large increases in the numbers of urban voters to reflect the trend of youth migration to cities.

“This would make the disproportionately large urban constituencies even larger and would exacerbate existing malapportionment,” he added.

He said the EC or some other independent body should audit data from the national registration department to ensure the integrity of electoral rolls.

Referring to the 2012 royal commission of inquiry into illegal immigrants in Sabah, he recalled a finding that the department might have given non-citizens identity cards that qualified them to be voters.

“I would suggest that the EC should still maintain the right to suspend or remove dubious voters,” he said.

He also said a reasonable time frame should be given for the transition and suggested its completion before the next redelineation exercise, which is due in seven years.