The harrowing experience of being an EC officer for GE13
Joanne Lim shares her experience as an EC officers on election day, who was regarded by many voters as a government machinery to prevent people from voting.
Contrary to public perception, most of the EC officers in schools are civilians/teachers who applied for the job to be EC officers on election day. I applied for the job as I wanted to be a part of the election process and gain a first-hand experience during one of the most exciting event in my beloved country. And of course, what better way to ensure a clean and fair election than to be a part of it?
To my utter shock, many voters regarded me as a government machinery who was placed there to prevent them from voting/to destroy/track their votes. When checking for a man’s saluran (channel) using his identity card (IC) , I was about to hand him the paper which merely stated the room he should vote in when he quickly said, “NO NO! Don’t give me anything! You’ll track me!” It was flabbergasting!
Voters thought we EC officers had the power to summon everything. Our centre asked MBPJ (in charge of us) for wheelchairs but were told that they had ran out of wheelchairs. People scolded us for not having wheelchairs, but really, that was completely, absolutely not our fault. We asked for wheelchairs numerous times, but we never got it. To be fair to MBPJ, their staff looked harassed and exhausted each time we saw them (they ate, slept and worked in their centre round the clock few weeks prior to elections). I could imagine the number of phone calls they received that day as polling centres with problems called them for assistance. In the end we carried chairs from classrooms so that the senior citizens could sit in line and I drove senior citizens who walked in the school to the doorstep of their saluran. And I'm sorry about the sun, we can't help it if you have to queue in the sun, really we can't. We ourselves suffered in the heat, at least you could go home after voting.
One voter rudely asked me why she had to vote in a different saluran from her mother. She lamented about the inconvenience of it all and demanded that I change it. What she (and many others) failed to understand was that we were merely following a pre-decided electoral roll which had already placed everyone into various salurans according to your IC number. Saluran 1 started with the oldest voters on the list, saluran 6 had the youngest voters.
Yes, changing your saluran is possible, we did it for a number of disabled/injured voters who couldn’t climb up staircases. But the paperwork involved in that is not easy, with clerks in both salurans involved having to co-ordinate and fill in forms. So what, you’ll think. That’s what you are paid for! Well, there are only 5-6 EC officers in each room, each time an EC officer is held up by such paperwork the entire voting process is delayed. We (and you) want to prevent fraud and cheating, hence paperwork is extremely necessary. You think it’s just a matter of you casting your vote in another classroom? The number of ballot papers provided for each saluran has already been fixed, any discrepancies and we’ll be in trouble.
Voters brought in their own pencils and erasers and whatnot and left them behind. We had a case of a voter who insisted that she had used a pencil to mark her vote (although we provided pens that were tied to the tables to prevent theft) because it was on the table. EC officers went to check the table and found no trace of a pencil. We asked the polling agents (PACA) if they had seen a pencil and they said no. For your information, every saluran has numerous agents from political parties who are monitoring the entire voting process. Finally the head of the polling place (Ketua Tempat Mengundi) of that saluran came out and assured the voter that her vote would be counted, whether in pen or pencil.
The voter (and her friends/family) then said we would erase her vote and change it. To which the KTM replied by saying that all the votes would be counted in front of counting agents (PACA - who are placed there to monitor the counting process). By this time the voter and her friends/family are extremely hostile, bad-mannered, rude and sarcastic towards us. One older man shouts, “Who’s in charge of this now? The government? The government again lah!” A young man crudely and rudely tells us not to mess around with them. Trust me, I had to dig deep into my patience reserve bank to control my response towards them. The KTM gave the voter a form to make an official complaint but she decided to walk off.
The internet has done a lot of good, but plenty of harm too. Voters were told to look out for dots on their ballot papers which would result in their votes being considered “spoilt”. With the misconception that each centre was given 10% extra ballot papers, people kept demanding for new ballot papers the moment they saw a single tiny dot on their paper. Truth is, centres were given only a FEW extra ballot papers for voters who sincerely, accidentally messed up their ballot papers. In my centre, each saluran was only give 6-10 extra ballot papers although they had 500-600 voters per saluran. Don’t blame us if you found the EC officer refusing to give an extra ballot paper, do you want to deny someone else the right to vote on the basis of a single dot on your ballot paper?
Ok, time to bring in the PACAs (polling & counting agents) who were present in every saluran, monitoring and tracking the vote-counting process. Did you agents fight over a dot on the ballot paper? (Heck, most of you were watching from too far away to even see the names of candidates properly, what more a dot.) All the agents looked for were clear votes, whether in pen, pencil, or even indelible ink (yes, a number of voters thought they had to use the ink to make their vote). As long as it was a clear vote, it was accepted. If there were any disputes, agents would argue over it, defending their own parties. Having observed the counting process myself, I saw no instance of ballot papers being analysed for dots that would render it “spoilt”. And I’m sure most of us know friends/family who volunteered as PACAs, ask them themselves. Were you guys/gals looking out for dots?
I had another voter who stormed up to me and wanted to make an “official complaint”. He was aghast that the SPR stamp was stamped right on the centre of the perforated part of his ballot paper, resulting in the stamp being torn into half. I explained to him that this was done for the purpose of ensuring that no ballot paper was simply torn out of the ballot book. He then demanded to know why there was a serial number on his ballot paper. I explained that it was for the purpose of ensuring that all ballot papers were accounted for. In the event of a sudden discrepancy in the number of ballot papers (say, saluran X should only have 452 voters according to the records of both the polling agents and also EC officers but we suddenly count 634 ballot papers), the serial number was important in ensuring that only the “rightful” ballot papers were counted. He thought for a few seconds over my explanation, nodded and said, “This sounds like a much more plausible explanation,” and went off. I understand his worries, I myself have received many emails telling me how and where and what should be done on my ballot paper. I think that people must be educated on the entire election process to prevent this sort of paranoia.
Indelible ink? People came up to me complaining about the indelible ink being delible (haha). I’m sorry, I’m only an EC officer who assists you in voting. I did NOT make nor order nor buy the ink, and I most certainly do not know WHY the indelible ink is delible. Really, I’m just someone on duty to help you out! (If you must hear my oh-so-important-EC-Officer opinion, I find the whole business of indelible ink ludicrous anyhow, so I really do not care if it can be washed/Cloroxed/soaped/licked off.)
Read me clearly: HELP. I laughed watching the policemen on duty at the school gate. All they had to do was direct people to the correct rooms and manage traffic. I heard a policeman say in frustration, “Saya nak tolong kamu lah! Bukan nak tangkap you! (I just want to help you! Not arrest you!)” This is because he asked to see the printed slips of the voters so he could direct them to their rightful salurans, but they thought that he was preventing them from voting. I talked to many policemen since they too were regarded with suspicion, making them my allies. I found out aplenty about the lives of policemen, who was asked stupid questions like why they weren’t carrying guns, and what they would do if they encountered trouble on election day. We both lamented over our rumbling tummies when both the MBPJ and Police Department failed to send us food until 3pm. I managed to dig out some water bottles from somewhere in the school and passed it out to the policemen who were standing under the scorching sun the whole day.
Look, I’m including this just to let you know that we are merely humans beings. I'm certain the police force was fully mobilised on that day. I talked to them and found out that they were on duty from 4am-6am THE NEXT DAY. 26 hours of duty, my fellow Malaysians. By night most of them had bloodshot eyes. They earned my absolute respect and admiration on that day.
I understand your paranoia, but we’re trying to be nice here, at least try and see that?? I detest how anger is so blinding that we take it out on others.
Giving money for your vote. We had voters who sought EC officers out, demanding that we give them money for voting. Seriously, I’m not kidding. There was even one voter who told us that she would vote if someone gave her money. Then she proceeded to sit around waiting the whole day. Haha, no one gave her any money. Another man came and demanded that we pay him for voting. I explained that we were EC officers, that it was an EC booth. He told me that every other voting centre had places to collect money, all except my centre. I shrugged and told him to approach the other centres then. He complained for a while more and left, telling us he would be back. Thankfully, he never returned.
PACAs. Some of the PACAs whom I met were pretty sarcastic and hostile towards us. They were sarcastic when they found out we were being paid for being on duty, told us not to forget that it was the “rakyat’s money”. They made fun of the free t-shirts and caps that we were wearing, again reminding us that it was THEIR money. They persistently told us that they were volunteers and received no money for doing their jobs. Ok, so I was paid RM235.00 for my duty. I worked from 5am to 9pm. I was drenched in rain, sweat, hatred and anger the entire day. You think it was worth it? We were given a small, tiny packet of meehoon for breakfast (seriously, it was about 4 mouthfuls) and one bottle of drink that was so sweet it made us thirsty. Since the canteen was closed and we couldn’t go out, many of us had no water to drink until our ‘lunch’ came at 3pm. Even then, somehow they constantly miscalculated the number of EC officers in our centre and a few of us had no food to eat. I had to take water bottles from the teachers’ staffroom as some of the teachers/EC officers had stashes of THEIR OWN (not government, please) water bottles. The PACAs had KFC and nice lunches from their own parties, they had the freedom to leave and buy their own water and food if they so desired, they took turns being on duty. Why bother comparing? If you envy my job so much, do apply to be an EC officer for the next GE. It’s open to all as long as you’re above 21 years old.
One PACA even had the audacity to tell me that I should “also read” non-state-controlled media to “find out the real happenings” in our country. Hey, just because I wasn’t explicitly supporting political parties doesn’t mean I’m an ignorant fool, ok?? As an EC officer my task was to be as neutral as possible, not to join in campaigning. I pointedly ignored that PACA because… well, because I’ve no energy nor time to deal with such narrow-minded mindsets.
We had PACA’s who came without their proper documents and then kicked up a big fuss and complained to SPR that we weren’t letting them in the rooms. I understand that some/many people had bad experiences with EC Officers, but after a whole day of such a hostile environment, who can blame them? By 10am the hostility I was receiving was taking a toll on my nerves! Many people pointedly ignored us, and at the end of the day, a PACA asked my Penyelia Pusat Mengundi (PPM), “You are a teacher? Not an SPR staff? All the KTMs are teachers too??” I could see confusion written all over her face, and she became friendly after that. -__-
No, I don’t hate PACAs. Erm… maybe I did, for a few hours. Yes, observe me by all means, but do it politely, keep all snide comments to yourself. I never once insulted any PACA (in fact, I introduced some of the PACA’s to the Penyelia Pusat Mengundi and I assisted them in what ways I could). I too could have pointedly ignored you for wanting to observe all that I do, but I did not. That being said, there were also PACAs who conducted themselves professionally.
And to the political party that dropped off the old uncle to vote and LEFT HIM THERE, may you receive your comeuppance someday (to put it politely. I have a much more vulgar sentence in mind). I never did ask which political party did it, but I do know that it’s darn irresponsible of them. I helped this old uncle who REALLY wanted to vote but could only move about 5cm each step, drove him from his voting room to a waiting area after he voted. I went outside and asked a nearby political barung if they had dropped him off, they merely laughed at me and asked, “Which party does he support?” I was utterly disgusted by their attitude and walked off. Finding a taxi was a near impossible task, didn’t see any. In the end the old uncle sat for a good two hours, got all wet from the storm (strong wind although he was sitting under a tent) till a taxi was found. I wanted to send him back, I did. But EC officers are not allowed to leave centres, and obviously so long as no one knew who he had voted for no one wanted to send him back. My heart really broke for this old man… I felt so guilty that I had failed to help him… I left him with other officers and did work elsewhere.
Really, to hell with humanity, I have to say. In our bid for free and fair elections we leave out compassion and love for others.
I’m unsure if there were real EC staff on duty in polling centres, but most schools I know hired everyday civilians like you and I. If the officers were strict, they were merely following orders from the higher-ups. The counting process was done in front of PACAs in each saluran, so cheating there is impossible. How does cheating happen? Definitely not at such a low-down level, if not they would not be hiring people like me to assist in the process. I believe fraud can only happen much higher up, at top-secret levels.
Ultimately, choosing to be an EC officer was a pretty abusive experience. Yes, there were people who were nice and smiled at us, but if there were any problems (real or imaginary) they turned hostile in a split second. I thought I would do my part in assisting out with ensuring a clean(er) election, but after everything, I’m not sure if it was worth it. The pay was definitely not worth it, but I was supposed to do it for the passion. No one told me I would be so badly mistreated for this job.
Will I do it again? Funnily enough, I may consider going through this again. Why? Despite it all, my purpose still remains: I love my country and I want to contribute towards ensuring clean and fair elections.
The story was shared from Joanne Lim's Facebook note .