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5 Things I Learned Working As A Polling Agent During GE14

It was an experience I will never forget.


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5 Things I Learned Working As A Polling Agent During GE14
Image: New Straits Times
It has been almost two weeks since the 14th General Election (GE14) and Malaysians are still recovering from the major transition that is currently taking place in the country.
 
But there is one group of people that was mentioned more often this time around compared to the previous elections in Malaysia – polling agents and counting agents, or more popularly known as PACA.
 
Several weeks before GE14, I was pacing back and forth contemplating whether or not to apply as one after seeing countless news articles and social media updates calling for greater participation in the election, not just as voters but as PACAs as well.
 
I wasn’t sure if it was the right move to make since it was only my second time voting this year and I didn’t think I was ‘bold’ enough. You’ll see what I mean in a bit.
 
Nevertheless, after attending a training for polling and counting agents to find out more about what was the task at hand, I decided to register.
 
For the sake of this article, I’ll be focusing solely on the role of a polling agent since this was the part I had the opportunity to serve as on polling day.

How to become a polling agent

Just about anyone can sign up as a polling agent (or counting agent) as long as you’re:
  • A Malaysian citizen
  • Aged 21 and above
  • Not bankrupt
  • Not convicted in any Malaysian court
  • Not convicted or arrested for any offence under the Election Offences Act
  • Not registered under the Prevention of Crime Act 1959
 If you’re qualified, submit your name to the election candidate’s office and wait for someone to contact you about your polling station and duty.
 
Now, let’s talk more about what polling agents are required to do on polling day.

Role of a polling agent

Example of PACAs on duty on polling day.
Each party can appoint their own agents, but only one representative is allowed in the polling stream at any point in time. Hence the appointed agents were permitted into their assigned polling stream from before the voting started until the count ended.
 
We had to keep our eyes peeled on every move made in the polling stream.
Regardless of which candidate or party you’re serving, a polling agent is there to make sure that every voter’s confidentiality and vote is accounted for.
 
They are like the eyes and ears of the candidates to ensure complete credibility and transparency throughout the entire election process.
 
The polling agents must also pay close attention to every step taken, identify anything irregular or suspicious and raise objections only when necessary.
 
So if you remember a couple of random people seated in front of the ballot boxes watching your every move from the moment you entered your designated polling stream until you cast your votes, those were the polling agents.
 
During the voting period, polling agents were given a copy of the electoral roll from their respective streams. They had to make sure that the details matched what was reflected on the voter and their identification cards, such as age, gender and ethnicity.
 
We also had to observe their index finger and mark their name in the electoral roll make sure that the voter has not voted yet.
 
We needed to observe the activity of the three election clerks on polling day.
In other words, polling agents are like monitors or prefects on polling day.
 
Unfortunately, not every political party or candidate would be able to appoint their own polling agents because volunteer work doesn’t sound very attractive to some people.
 
But it was crucial to have someone there to observe because who knows what could have happened when nobody was watching, right?
 
According to MSN, GE14 saw nearly 8,900 polling centres with over 28,990 polling streams. So if each stream needed at least three agents, and more for different shifts, just try to picture how many polling agents were required nationwide.
 
I had the honour to work at the largest constituency in Malaysia on 9 May, which consisted of more than 178,000 voters at GE14.
 
It was an incredible eye-opening experience for me, so I would like to share some of the things I learned working as polling agent during the election.

Disclaimer: This was my personal experience and it may not reflect the opinion of other polling agents and counting agents.

#1 The importance of accuracy

An election clerk dipping the finger of a voter in indelible ink.
As you can tell, election is no child’s play. The scale of accuracy and precision that was taking place could make or break a candidate’s career in politics and ultimately, the government.
 
In the first few minutes during my shift, I was struggling to keep up with the pace of the election clerks and voting process that was already happening before I stepped in.
 
Scanning through the electoral roll for each voter’s name wasn’t as breezy as well for me, it felt like I was going through the dictionary!
 
On top of that, we had to observe the dipping of indelible ink, stamping of the ballot papers and handing over to the voter, all the way until the voter cast their vote, major multi-tasking here.
 
But after a few turns, I finally got the hang of it.

#2 The beauty of kindness

Everyone was very kind to one another while waiting patiently in line. 
I saw how humanity was restored among Malaysians on 9 May.
 
I served at a polling stream dedicated to the senior citizens, which meant that there were a lot of patience and tolerance required on the part of the election workers.
 
We had to deal with more senior voters who had probably forgotten what they needed to do in the polling stream and everyone pointed them to the right direction with smiles on their faces.
 
There were several cases where the elderly came in wheelchairs. The election staff wheeled them in immediately without asking and made sure that they could cast their votes smoothly.
 
It was heartwarming to see everyone being so kind and tolerant towards each other that day, especially after waiting in line for hours under the scorching hot sun.

#3 The power of unity

Don't forget the election workers sitting out in the hot weather as well.When everyone works towards a common goal, nothing else matters.
 
Majority of the PACAs that I met were strangers at first. We didn’t know each other, nor did we know of each other’s background. Our one and only objective was to do our part well in the best way we know.
 
So the moment we received our respective groups and duties, we connected instantly with zero judgement and prejudice.
 
We stayed in communication every day to make sure that we were updated with any change or new regulation that had happened leading up to polling day.
 
We were also able to coordinate our shifts well and stand in for our fellow PACA whenever needed because apart from volunteering, we had to make time to go and vote as well.
 
Those who had completed their monitoring shifts stayed back at the station for some time to make sure that the next person on duty had adjust well and caught up with the process.
 
Some of my fellow agents even came back to the polling station again after casting their votes to be on standby in case we needed an extra hand.
 
You’ll be surprised what the power of unity can do, just give Malaysians a chance and we’ll prove it to you.

#4 The passion of Malaysians

Each PACA took their jobs very seriously on that day. 
I was lucky enough to be stationed roughly 40 minutes away from where I live and during the afternoon shift. So I made sure to start queuing to vote before 8am and finish everything before I started my polling agent duties.
 
Thankfully, I was able to cast my vote with some time to spare and prepare for my shift.
 
But I know of some PACAs who had to wake up in the wee hours of the morning and travel one to two hours to volunteer at a marginal location.
 
Some of them had even travelled outstation and missed their chance to vote, just to help out in a remote area that had very few workers. I know, this method may not sound ideal to some of you, but you’ll be able to relate better once you understand our role.
 
The passion and love for the country that I saw among PACAs and voters alike blew my mind. I’m sure you all felt the same way after the official announcement of the results two weeks ago.

#5 Becoming a better-informed voter

Malaysians young and old came out to exercise their right as citizens.Having said all that, the greatest thing I learned from volunteering as a worker during the election was the opportunity to observe and learn how the whole election process functioned.
 
When I voted for the first time five years ago, everything happened so quickly that I wasn’t able to savour the moment longer than I had intended. I was in and out of the room in less than five minutes and I don’t even remember what happened next.
 
This time, it was great to be able to witness the role of each election worker and the purpose of every rule and regulation given by the Election Commission.
 
For example, did you know that each polling stream was allowed only a maximum of 700 voters each? This was to ensure that the process is done in the most accurate and precise way possible without making careless mistakes.
 
This tag may not be relevant in the next election.
To be honest, I didn’t imagine myself working as a polling agent at the general election a month ago. I thought I was just going to start lining up at my polling station to vote early in the morning, get it done and over with, and enjoy the rest of the public holiday.
 
But I’m so glad and grateful that I registered because it was an experience that I’ll never forget. I would highly recommend signing up as a polling agent or counting agent in the next election. I promise you won’t regret it.
 
As for me, I think I’ll try becoming a counting agent next time.

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