SINGAPORE — To ensure voting secrecy and security of the electoral voting process for Singaporeans based overseas, additional safeguards, such as incorporating a unique QR code on each return envelope, will be implemented.
This is among the recommendations announced by the Elections Department Singapore (ELD) on Tuesday (26 July) following an online survey that the ELD had conducted involving 3,221 overseas Singaporeans from 64 countries. The survey, conducted in May and June, also sought feedback from 13 political parties and 39 nursing home operators on voting arrangements.
The addition of the unique QR code will be on top of a requirement for a postal voter to log in to the secure ELD Voter Services using Singpass to authenticate his or her identity and to download the return envelope and postal ballot paper.
The code, which does not contain any personal information or identifiers, will ensure that only envelopes with valid codes will be accepted, said ELD in a press release.
It will also ensure that only one postal ballot paper from each registered overseas voter will be counted as well as to verify the wet-ink signature on the return envelope against the specimen signature furnished earlier during the registration of overseas voters.
ELD noted that 82 per cent of overseas respondents expressed support for the postal voting initiative, with convenience and exercising the right to vote while living overseas as the top two reasons cited for their support.
The survey also showed that 83 per cent of 1,771 respondents who had never voted while living overseas are willing to take part in postal voting.
They, however, highlighted several concerns, including the handling and processing of postal votes, the transparency of the process, and cost of postal voting.
ELD noted that there were suggestions to address allegations of ballot stuffing by making available information on the total number of overseas voters and the breakdown by those who opted for postal voting or in-person voting at overseas polling stations.
To address some concerns, ELD will spell out the criteria for the rejection of return envelopes through legislation. These include damaged or unsealed envelopes, multiple envelopes with the same QR code received from one individual, the signature on the envelope not matching the specimen signature, and the envelope containing more than one postal ballot paper.
ELD will also make available information on overseas voters and provide an update to postal voters on whether their return envelopes were received, after the counting of overseas votes.
Postal voters can start downloading and self-printing their postal ballot paper and return envelope starting from the day after Nomination Day.
The marked postal ballot papers must be posted before Polling Day in Singapore and reach ELD no later than 10 days after Polling Day. Additionally, ELD will provide postage-paid return envelopes for overseas postal voters where this is available, to help avoid delays that may otherwise happen due to insufficient postage.
Voting arrangements at nursing homes
There is also general support of the move to pilot special voting arrangements at nursing homes, but a few concerns have been raised.
Among them is ensuring voting secrecy, particularly for bedbound voters who might vote in close proximity to other residents, and preventing undue influence from nursing home staff or next-of-kin during voting.
Other concerns include ascertaining whether the residents have the mental capacity to vote, ensuring their safety as well as operational steps on setting up an on-site polling station and administering bed-to-bed polling.
To ensure transparency and voting secrecy, candidates or polling agents will be allowed to observe polling in nursing homes, said ELD.
A portable lap booth will be provided for bed-to-bed polling so that voters can mark their ballot papers in private.
To address the concern that voters may be influenced by the nursing home staff during voting, ELD will provide guidelines on what nursing home staff can and cannot do, it noted.
For instance, nursing home staff can help voters to sit up at their beds for the bed-to-bed polling but will be required to move away when the voters are ready to vote.
Nursing home staff are also not allowed to mark the ballot paper on behalf of voters or engage in any actions that may influence voters, said ELD.
If voters are physically unable to mark it, they can request for election officials to assist them to do so, similar to what is done at a regular polling station, with a second election official as a witness.
ELD will align the approach to handle nursing home voters who may lack the mental capacity to vote with the current approach adopted at regular polling stations. For instance, voters will not be issued a ballot paper if they do not respond to an election official’s repeated requests for their identification document and poll card.
Guidance from prevailing public health and relevant guidelines will be taken to ensure the health and safety of nursing home residents, said ELD.
"If the guidelines do not allow election officials to access the nursing homes, the special voting arrangements at nursing homes will be suspended," it noted.
Singapore's last general election was held in 2020. A total of 4,794 registered overseas voters, or 72.97 per cent of the group, cast their ballots at designated polling stations abroad.
Together with the overseas ballots, the total number of votes cast at the election was 2,540,359, including 45,822 rejected votes, or 95.81 per cent of the 2,651,435 registered voters.
There were long queues at a number of voting sites during the GE then due to issues such as the implementation of COVID-19 safe management measures, as well as the uneven spread of voter turnout.
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