By Lucky Pratama
The national elections last month were regarded as the largest in Indonesia’s history; presidential and legislative elections were held on the same day across the country. The government provided about 809,500 voting centers to accommodate voter turnout, almost twice as many as the 2014 national election. It was such a grand event that the government made April 17–election day–into a holiday.
For Indonesian citizens living abroad, the Overseas General Election Committee (PPLN) provided options for voting, either through mail-in ballots or by opening a few polling centers in certain countries. In the Pacific Northwest, Indonesians who wanted to vote in person had to travel to San Francisco to reach the closest polling center. Many others voted by mail.
Citizens who chose to vote by mail were sent a package containing two ballots, one for presidential candidates and the other for legislative candidates. In addition, the package contained a statement prohibiting voters from voting on behalf of someone else. The deadline for returning the ballots by mail was April 10, one week before the vote took place in Indonesia.
Given the importance of this year’s general election, combined with the heated rivalry between the candidates, we expected a lot of enthusiasm from overseas voters. We distributed a survey to Indonesians in Western Washington asking about their participation. Those surveyed included Indonesian students as well as those who have lived in the United States for several years, but who have retained their Indonesian citizenship.
We received 33 responses. Of course, it should be noted that this was not a scientific survey and not intended to be representative of all Indonesians who live in the United States, let alone other countries. However, among respondents in Western Washington, we found that 24.24% did not vote.
Of those who did vote, almost 25% returned their ballots before March 30 and another quarter did so on or before April 6. This means almost half of the voters by mail returned the ballot as soon as they received theirs in the early weeks of March, suggesting they had already decided for whom they would vote prior to the fourth round of presidential debates held on March 30. One respondent decided to travel all the way to the San Francisco solely for the purpose of voting. When we followed-up with him, he replied that he travelled by train and stayed in San Francisco for the whole day just to see how the voting went.
Among those who did not vote, only one did not receive his ballot. There were also several voters that cast their vote late because their ballots were delivered to an incorrect address. In most cases, this happened because they moved after registering to vote in 2018. In many cases, ballots were delivered to the former address even though the voter had updated his or her address at the Overseas General Election Committee’s website. One voter had to make several phone calls and undertake multiple email exchanges before she finally received her ballot at the last minute.
Our survey indicates that the majority of Indonesians in Western Washington participated in this year’s general election, despite in some cases having to fight for their right to vote. The voter turnout here—75.76%–was only slightly less than the turnout in Indonesia which, at over 80%, greatly exceeded most US elections.