The Malta Independent 5 June 2020, Friday

It’s 2015 and I’m still flying home to vote (!)

Jenny Pullicino Orlando Sunday, 15 March 2015, 11:00 Last update: about 6 years ago

I've just booked my flight to Malta to vote in next month's Spring Hunting Referendum.

In a country like ours the maxim 'every vote counts' is not a hollow statement but an absolute truth. The Maltese public sees this as a responsibility that almost transcends democratic duty; it is something of a cultural monolith. The country has one of the highest voter turnout rates in the world for parliamentary elections even when taking into account countries where voting is compulsory like Belgium or Australia. Isn't this a wonderful, admirable thing in an age where declining political engagement threatens to destabilise both established and burgeoning democracies?

I think it is.

I'm still flying home to vote, though. There is something wrong with that sentence... can you spot it?

I must have missed the debate on the value of providing alternative ways to vote that doesn't wreak this level of disruption. We've heard a lot of cross-party murmurings on the 'perhapses' associated with this problem - perhaps we will soon be able to vote in select embassies abroad, perhaps there will be e-voting or the postal vote... However, absolutely nothing concrete has seemingly been done, by legislature past or present, to rectify this state of affairs.


Cost of your vote: €70

Those of us who live, work or are receiving treatment abroad have become almost accustomed to the ridiculous process by now; the frantic search for the Air Malta notice in the papers and subsequent logistical nightmares.

While coming home is an absolute pleasure, it doesn't change the fact that, right now, the Maltese taxpayer is subsidising a return ticket to enable me to exercise my democratic rights. The lack of enforcement that comes with the engagement of this subsidy (i.e. some do just take advantage of the cheap flight and don't vote) is also setting tongues wagging and creating avoidable, unnecessary tension.

Someone needs to also point out that exercising my right to vote will come at a price.

This time my vote's price tag is €70 (and that is just for the flight itself, the airport isn't in my living room). Before I'm called an ingrate, I want to point out that no one is denying that these are very advantageous rates, of course they are. However, beyond the anger of the rest of the Maltese electorate who are a little less than amused that they have to subsidise my 'vacation', it is important that the government recognises that it is implicitly pricing democracy. Those currently living abroad are being requested to pay, however fair or unfair the amount, to vote. Like it or lump it. If someone cannot afford to travel back, then what? (And, let us not forget that a sizeable chunk of those not living in the hotspots do not get the chance of a chartered flight).

This is a threat of disenfranchisement or, in some cases, disenfranchisement altogether.

It is a shame because it is by no means an insurmountable problem.


Not just a problem for those who live and work abroad

Developing other far more administratively, financially, politically, and organisationally viable ways to get to the ballot does not simply benefit those who are living abroad, it offers those living in Malta the flexibility to choose how to cast their vote.

The lack of alternative methods to do so is an issue for all of the Maltese electorate. The problem also extends itself to those, for instance, who work all day on Saturdays, are immobile or unable to leave the house for whatever reason, in hospital, in the middle of study or an exam etc. How many times have we watched the elderly, immobile or ill being literally carried into polling stations across Malta (or even at times carried them ourselves)?


Necessary for the development of our democracy

It is imperative that a modern democracy has all the existing options available to allow its citizens to cast their vote. There are many ways to do this; it is not the 19th century. It is not just about the inconvenience of not having these facilities but also about the message not having them sends out. Electoral proceedings should be carried out in the fairest and most inclusionary way possible to allow us to discharge our duty, should we want to do so.

Needless to say, there are many constructive ways to do this that do not only include voting in embassies (which would likely be just as costly for the voter and logistically difficult for those participating embassies). We must remember that Malta does not have a diplomatic presence everywhere. The situation doesn't require any particular creativity or leap into modernity - there are many established global practices that can be adapted to fit the country's requirements.


Action is required.

Really, don't bother saying it will cost too much. I am no mathematician, but even totalling the cumulative costs of flying people down to Malta every election or referendum in the last 10 years would be substantial enough an amount to make a considerable contribution towards creating a far more flexible electoral infrastructure.

Even if it didn't, it would be entirely irrelevant because this is a necessary step in the development of our democracy; it is imperative that Malta is brought up to speed immediately in this regard.


Let's see concrete plans to change this state of affairs

Every vote counts so wouldn't it be great if every vote that wanted to be counted could be cast? All it takes is a consolidated political will that pushes for swift action on the matter, the sooner the better.




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