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Ballot counting before the public in the Taiwan elections. Pink ballot papers are for the presidential elections.

What elections look like in Taiwan

By Peng Yu

By now, everyone would have seen the campaigns trucks and mass rallies of the Taiwanese election 2016. But is anyone familiar with how ballot counting for the election works?

The Online Citizen (TOC) takes you inside a counting centre in southern Taiwan for the recently concluded presidential and legislative elections there.

Electoral map of Taiwan, along with the majority votes won by parties. (source - Chinatimes)
Electoral map of Taiwan, along with the majority votes won by parties. (source - Chinatimes)

Apart from the president and vice-president, there were 113 legislative seats being competed over. Of the legislative seats, 73 are geographic constituencies where candidates compete in a first-past-the-post system. Then there are 6 aboriginal seats reserved for two groups of aborigines, the Mountain (Shandi) and Plains (Pingdi) tribes. The Shandi and Pingdi tribes get three seats each, which aboriginal voters decide on through a single non-transferrable vote.

The final 34 legislative seats come from a closed party list presented by each political party, and decided on through a national party vote. The higher the proportion of the national vote, the more candidates on its list a party can put in the legislative.

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Taiwan voting stamps (Source: BBC )

Balloting occurs in balloting centres around Taiwan. This may be in a school, the office of a community building, or even a condominium function room. In the morning, sealed ballot boxes and ballot papers are transported with police guard from local Electoral Commission offices to the balloting centres under police guard. No cameras are permitted in the voting area when voting is taking place.

Voters mark their ballot papers in voting booths to safeguard the secrecy of the vote. There is a stamp and inkpad in the voting booth, which ensures anonymity of each ballot. Voters register and receive their ballots and head to the voting booth to vote. Voters stamp their choice in the box above the picture and name of their preferred candidates, before folding the ballot into half and depositing it into the ballot box. There are no serial number on the ballots.

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Taiwan election booths after the election.

When there are two simultaneous elections taking place, as was recently the case, the ballot papers are in different colours. For the past election, the presidential ballot was pink and the legislative ballot was yellow. The ballot for the party list for this past election was white. For the last election, Mountain Tribes have blue ballot papers and Plains Tribes green ballot papers. Aboriginal voters can vote for aboriginal seats based on their aboriginal status, which their national identity card states.

When voting closes, the ballot boxes are opened in front of the community and the ballots tallied on sheets posted up for everyone to see. The colour of each sheet corresponds to the colour of the ballot for the election. Once the counting commences, ballot boxes are emptied before the community and an election officer will hold up each ballot for those present to see. The election officer holding up the vote will announce the candidate number the particular ballot goes to. Another election official will tally the votes are they are being announced.

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Tallying votes before the public. White ballots are for the party vote.

Members of the public present can request to see each ballot through the counting process. There is particular excitement when a vote is announced as invalid. Members of the public will crowd forward to examine the ballot, challenging the judgement of the election officer if necessary. Members of the public present often note the results and publicise them online so everyone who wishes to can verify the official results.

Member of the public doing her own vote tallying and recording.
Member of the public doing her own vote tallying and recording.

After voting is complete, the sorted votes are placed on the table and where Election Officers will double check the number of votes before sealing the ballots in envelopes that indicate the polling station, district, and constituency where the voting took place, along with the party which the ballots are for. Election officials then countersign on the envelopes, tally forms, and the large sheets that tally votes for the polling station. The ballots and paperwork are sent to the Electoral Commission, again under police guard. The detailed voting pattern in a district are then reported by the Electoral Commission and publicized.

Ballot sealing. Yellow ballots are votes for legislators in geographic constituencies.
Ballot sealing. Yellow ballots are votes for legislators in geographic constituencies.

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Election instructions and polling/counting centres in a constituency.

The system in Taiwan attempts to reduce electoral fraud by increasing transparency. Stuffing ballot boxes becomes very difficult under the watchful eyes of the public. Consequently, electoral fraud tends to take place through vote buying instead.

However, mechanisms for reporting electoral fraud anonymously as well as restrictions on the cost of campaign paraphernalia and meals have significantly reduced electoral fraud in Taiwan.

All the best, Taiwan, and congratulations to the results from your democratic process.