Letter to the editor: voting by mail, is it worth it?
An increasing number of citizens of Palau are beginning to scrutinize and condemn the voting by mail system that has raised concerns over the worth of this system of election. My statement will examine the potential negative impact on absentee ballots upon the national and state elections in Palau. Although there is a law authorizing absentee ballots, the national government should consider eliminating the absentee ballots. Absentee ballots are unfair and very expensive for Palauan citizens living in Palau.
The Constitution of Palau, Article VII clearly states “A citizen of Palau eighteen (18) years of age or older may vote in national and state elections. The Olbiil Era Kelulau shall prescribe a minimum period of residence and provide for voter registration for national elections. Each state shall prescribe a minimum period of residence and provide for voter registration for state election. A citizen who is in prison, serving a sentence for a felony, or mentally incompetent as determined by a court may not vote. Voting shall be by secret ballot.” Palau National Code 23, Chapter 15 (Code 1966, § 79; P.L. No. 6-104, § 9.) 43 TTC § 351, as amended by RPPL 1-67 § 8 and RPPL 3-44 § 4(2), modified states, “Any registered voter qualified to vote at any election shall be entitled and enabled to vote by absentee ballot and an absentee ballot is an official ballot which is authorized by this title to be voted outside of any designated polling place or prior to the date of the election.”
The Constitution and Palau National Code (PNC) states the provisions to the system of absentee ballots. Although voting by absentee ballot is recognized, there have been numerous attempts to amend the Constitution and the PNC upon the request of certain individuals but the attempts have failed. Reasons for the attempts are because of the fairness and expense of the voting by mail. A one-on-one interview with a prominent policy maker which I will call Mr. M agreed to a quick interview. Mr. M in the interview blatantly said “Everyone has the right to vote, it’s constitutional. Voting by mail is not a nuisance, but fair to a certain degree. One such example is it takes the financial burden away from the election commission of Palau. However, those in office like myself may have a different driving force then those who are motivated and are influenced by money and power and, therefore, use taxpayers’ money to fund their campaigns outside of Palau in hopes of getting more votes through absentee balloting.” Mr. M expressed his disappointment towards some of his colleagues’ abuse of power, fraud, and waste of governments and tax payer’s resources. After the short and brief interview, Mr. M is inspired to push the idea of a reform on the current law to restrict the current law to fairly allow selected citizens living abroad to vote by mail. One example Mr. M laid out was that the low income families are usually penalized and fined with ease, while top notch officials only get a slap on the wrist because they can afford to challenge the crime. Same as the voting, those who can afford it, have a better chance than those “good guys” with good intentions but does not have the funding or resources. Just something to consider about fairness in all aspects of our values and beliefs as Palauans, although this is just my opinion.
The office of the Palau Election Commission (PEC) has public information and substantial election information collected throughout the years and, in particular, the expenses accrued for absentee ballots for all national and state elections. Based on the cost breakdown from the recent National Election in 2016, there were over 2,000 absentee ballots requested and sent out; however, less than half of the absentee ballots were received. The expense on absentee ballots was approximately $5,000.00 for stamps and the return envelope for the requestor, but this was just for outside of Palau. The outer islands of Palau such as Hatohobei and Sonsorol States have an average expense for absentee of $5,000.00 for food, water, and supplies for PEC officials for the duration of seven days. An additional $45,000.00 for fuel and another $17,000.00 for personnel stipends and salaries were listed on the cost breakdown. Therefore, the total expense for absentee ballots in 2016 National Election was estimated at $82,000.00. The expense is too much for the absentee ballots and the amount of work load for staffs, as the percentage of received absentee ballots is not even 50%. The policy makers should examine and reconsider if the absentee ballots’ expenses are worth it.
In recent years, Palauans, both abroad and on island, have become very fond of social media, especially Facebook. Some have even created groups to discuss issues regarding Palau, share photos, and even groups to sell items. In one of these groups, Palau Town Hall, a poll was created by one of the group’s administrators. “Voting is one of our most fundamental rights as PALAU citizens. Election Commission Office must work to ensure overseas citizens are aware of their right to vote and have the tools and resources to successfully do so – from anywhere in the world” (https://www.facebook.com/groups/727155647367856/permalink/2021114657971942/). Members of the group had the option to either agree or disagree with this statement. Only 88 members of the group chose to openly participate out of the 6,981 members. Most members of the group choose not to participate in most of the discussions as the discussions can get very intense and personal. This is why the number of participants in the poll is very low. The number of people who disagreed with the statement was 50 and those who agreed were 38. Members were able, and still are able, to participate in the poll and comment. Some members who disagreed made some comments, and simply just said that Palauan citizens abroad should come home to vote and most of these members reside here on island. Some members who currently live abroad also made some comments to defend their right to vote, but were ridiculed by many members.
This poll and many other discussions, not only on social media but conservations between concerned citizens, have been about absentee ballots and why they must be put to an end. Most citizens are concerned with the expenses of preparing the absentee ballots and the fairness of the situation. These concerned citizens, based on the poll, believe that because the citizens abroad do not pay taxes to Palau and do not have to live through the hardships that Palauans on island go through, they should not vote. Another concern is the fact that those abroad living independently do not have first-hand information on current situations and issues on island, and instead rely on second hand information from social media which is all “hear say” and mostly misleading information.
In conclusion, although the Constitution and PNC states that all citizens have the right to vote locally and abroad, there is still much concern over absentee ballots; especially the national election’s expenses and fairness may not be suitable for Palau. Testimonies and data collected influence the Palauan citizens to go against absentee ballots. More than fifty percent of the participants of the online poll on Facebook consisted mostly of citizens abroad, and are mainly concerned over the voting by mail system and support the change. Absentee ballots may not be as solid as we thought it would be, and changing its system may provide some comfort for all citizens of Palau.
– By Anonymous Citizen