Mid-week vs weekend polling date

"Parliament to be dissolved on April 6. Elections will be held early May."

This seems to be the talk of the town.

If true dissolution takes place this Friday, the next question would be: when will the 14th General Elections take place?

May 5, 2018 - a Saturday OR another date which falls on a working day?

The Malaysian Insight, which has suspended its operations, highlighted the possibility of a mid-week polling date.

The report, published on March 29, stated: "A mid-week election could result in a lower voter turnout for GE14, as there is a large diaspora of Malaysian voters, particularly in Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia, who return when the general election is usually held over the weekend."

Having the general elections on a working day will be seen as an attempt to discourage the electorate from casting their votes. If that happens, members from the opposition parties will not be pleased.

But holding the elections on a week day (not a public holiday) has been done in the past. Below is the list of general elections held in the country since 1955.

Election Year            Polling Day
1955                         July 27 (Wed)
1959                         Aug 19 (Wed)                    
1964                         April 25 (Sat)                           
1969                         May 10 (Sat)                             
1974                         Aug 24 (Sat)
1978                         July 8 (Sat)
1982                         April 22 (Thurs)
1986                         Aug 3 (Sun)
1990                         Oct 20 (Sat)
1995                         April 24 (Mon)
1999                         Nov 29 (Mon)
2004                         March 21 (Sun)
2008                         March 8 (Sat)
2013                         May 5 (Sun)

Q: So why court controversy by holding the general elections on a working day?

A: To discourage politicians (both divides) from sending bus loads of voters into their areas.

There are electorates who are registered to vote in a particular area but no longer stay or work there.

Eg. A voter is registered to vote in ABC based on his last address as stated on his identification card but now works and resides in XYZ.

Of course, the voter should update his or her details. But many don't.

The voter than travels to his registered 'constituency' to cast his or her vote before returning to his or her daily routine elsewhere.

To secure a large majority, some politicians go to the extend of securing transportation and meals for their "constituents" based elsewhere to get them to vote. This translates to money spent on transportation and meals, among others.

Should polling day (regardless mid-week or weekend) be declared national holiday?

Beau C. Tremitiere, editor-in-chief of the Northwestern University Law Review, believes so. He had in a 2016 commentary published by CNBC, wrote:

"We live in an era of rampant voter suppression. Stories about new voter identification laws and aggressive purges of registration rolls fill newspaper headlines on a daily basis, and rightfully so. Nothing more seriously undermines democracy than intentional, systematic suppression of lawful voting.

Yet, amidst growing cries for electoral reform, the biggest voting obstruction of them all goes unmentioned: the simple and devastating fact that we hold federal elections on a Tuesday in November, when more than one hundred million Americans are at work or in the classroom.
Voting on Tuesday was a good idea in the 1800s, when Wednesdays were market days, weekends were dedicated to worship, and farmers needed time to travel to and from their county seat's election box. What began as an accommodation for farmers on horseback has since become an obstacle, real and symbolic, to democratic participation in America.

The demands of school and work schedules keep millions of Americans, especially those with children or long commutes, from ever getting to their polling stations. Countless other students and workers who do manage to cast their ballots would love to be even more involved in the process — whether by driving elderly neighbors to the polls, helping illiterate voters understand their ballots, or serving as a poll watcher to deter foul play — but can't afford to skip class or take off a shift.

Just as importantly, our election timing sends a message: if you vote, great, but if not, you and everyone else have a good excuse, so we'll let it slide. This only reinforces already-rampant voter apathy and cynicism and disgust with our elected officials."

Read the full article here.

However, Inc.com's Suzanne Lucas begged to differ. She wrote:

"Big businesses like banks and the white collar jobs at pharmaceutical companies shut down, and all the employees get a day off with pay. Schools and universities shut down, giving teachers and professors time to vote.

But you know what doesn't shut down for federal holidays? Retail. Restaurants. Hospitals. Smaller businesses that can't afford to lose a day of revenue, and if they do, they certainly can't afford to pay people for the time off.

What does that mean? If you make election day a federal holiday, you'll have all the people who work in these types of jobs still having to work, being inundated with customers who have the day off ... Now, if you just want white collar people to vote, by all means, make it more difficult for blue collar people by removing their child care, and increasing their work hours because companies will take advantage of the holiday to run sales and promotions."

In the UK: "Though polling days are deemed important by many, they are not Bank Holidays.
Teachers as well as pupils may get a day off as a number of polling stations are set up in local schools. But on the day of the election, it will be business as normal for Britain." 

Centre for a Better Tomorrow (Cenbet) co-President Gan Ping Sieu, had in 2015 said, the national penchant for declaring public holidays every time there is a by-election is considered a form of "political bribery" by state governments.
He was zeroing in on the Rompin and Permatang Pauh by-elections were "populist announcements tinged with political motives" were heard.

Gan said: “Just because both the Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat governments do it doesn't make it right. These go against the principle of  good governance, which Cenbet promotes and holds dear to."

Best way forward

A good voting registration system will ensure those who live in the area vote in the area. Polling can then be done mid-week or over the weekend with little fuss by the stakeholders.

Sweden’s voter registration model is based on a continuously updated civil registry that is administered by the National Tax Agency.

In France, voters who move are responsible for registering at their new address by submitting a new registration form to election officials.

The national statistics agency, INSEE, identifies duplicate registrations resulting from re-registration at new residences by comparing lists submitted to them by municipal election officials. The INSEE then forwards information on duplicate registrations to municipal election officials.

These officials notify voters, by registered mail with receipt acknowledgment, that they are currently registered in two locations and that unless they respond to the letter within 8 days, they will remain registered at their most recent residential address and will be removed from the other voter list.

Possible future trends for voter registration:
  • use of a voter registration system that - with the help of government agencies and "spot on the earth" mapping - can "follow" the voter, record the voter's information and facilitate registration.
  • voter ID cards.
  • integration of voter registration performance management into electoral management body/civil registration authority activities.    


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