Safe management measures, issues at large polling stations led to long Polling Day queues: ELD

·Editorial Team
·5-min read
Voters wearing face masks wait to enter a school, temporarily used as a polling station, to cast their ballots during the general election in Singapore on July 10, 2020. - Wearing masks and gloves and being careful to observe social distancing, Singaporeans voted in a general election on July 10 as the city-state struggles to recover from a coronavirus outbreak. (Photo by Roslan RAHMAN / AFP) (Photo by ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP via Getty Images)
Voters wearing face masks wait to enter a school, temporarily used as a polling station, to cast their ballots during the general election in Singapore. (PHOTO: Roslan Rahman/AFP via Getty Images)

SINGAPORE — The Elections Department (ELD) has admitted and apologised that measures taken to ensure voter safety during General Election 2020 (GE2020) have resulted in unsatisfactory voting experiences, such as sustained queues at some polling stations.

Issues such as implementation of COVID-19 safe management measures, large polling stations not better resourced and uneven spread of voter turnout has caused long queues of more than 30 minutes during the Polling Day voting on 10 July.

In a media release on Thursday (10 September), ELD has assured voters that it will improve its systems and processes as it prepares for future elections.

“ELD has drawn lessons from GE2020 and will put them right for future elections. We recognise that the GE2020 precautionary measures, while intended to protect public health and safety, reduced the voting efficiency for Singapore voters,” ELD said in the media release.

“Even though the MCI (Ministry of Communication and Information) REACH poll found that seven in 10 voters were satisfied with their experience at the polling stations, that three in 10 voters had a less than satisfactory voting experience is not acceptable. We apologise for this.”

Long queues at 18 per cent of polling stations

ELD said that, on Polling Day, there were longer-than-usual queues at about 18 per cent of the polling stations (199 out of a total of 1,097 stations) in the morning.

By 11am, the queue situation had improved in most stations. However, 68 stations saw sustained long queues in the afternoon, while 47 stations had sustained long queues throughout the day.

Through its data review and consultation with election officials on the ground, ELD found the following factors contributed to the long queues:

  • Safe management measures: To ensure public health and safety in voting during the COVID-19 pandemic, ELD had implemented measures such as temperature taking, putting on disposable gloves and hand sanitising. However, these new measures took up additional time. The one-metre safe-distancing requirement also contributed to the lengthening of queues. ELD subsequently did away with the requirement to don disposable gloves, improving the queue situation by 11am.

  • Large polling stations not better resourced: The average number of voters per polling stations was about 2,400. However, there were 25 stations which had more than 4,400 voters, of which 22 experienced long voter queues. Some premises also had two polling stations, and the two queues merged into one some distance away from the polling area, further lengthening the queues. These large polling stations should have been better resourced, for example with more officials or e-Registration devices.

  • Voter turnout not evenly spread out: ELD had allocated recommended time-bands for GE2020. However, the allocated time-bands did not succeed in spreading out voter turnout evenly through the day. For example, time-bands in the morning were allocated to senior voters, but one-third of voters in the morning were non-senior voters. Some polling stations with significantly high proportions of younger voters also saw queues in the afternoon, due to the large number of voters and the smaller seven-hour voting window.

  • Issues with the e-Registration devices: For e-Registration, the pre-COVID19 plan was for election officials to scan the NRICs of voters. However, with the COVID-19 situation, voters were asked to self-scan their NRICs. ELD had intended to do roadshows to familiarise voters with the e-Registration device, but these had to be called off due to the COVID-19 situation. As a result, voters were unfamiliar with the e-Registration devices, and this process took longer than planned.

REACH survey to gauge voters’ experience

During its review of the Polling Day polling process, ELD had commissioned government feedback agency REACH to conduct a survey to gauge voters’ experience. The survey was conducted from 23 to 30 July, sampling 1,000 Singapore citizens aged 21 and above.

The survey found that seven out of 10 voters (70 per cent) were satisfied with their experience at the polling stations. However, those who voted at schools and community centres/clubs (which housed polling stations with more voters) registered a poorer voting experience because of the length of time it took to vote.

There were 4 per cent of respondents who disagreed that the polling process was well-organised. About 9 per cent of respondents said that they spend 45 minutes or more to vote.

ELD said that voter satisfaction decreased significantly with increasing time voters took to cast their vote, with a “cliff effect” observed when the voting time reached 30 minutes.

Improvements for future elections

ELD said in its media release that it will be making the following improvements for future elections:

  • Increase pool of reserve manpower and equipment: ELD will add more reserve election officials, who can be deployed quickly to polling stations to contingencies, such as unforeseen build-ups in queues. More e-Registration devices will also be set up.

  • Reduce the number of voters at large polling stations: Wherever feasible, ELD will split large polling stations. If it is not feasible to split the polling station (due to a lack of alternative premises in the area, for example), it will be better organised and resourced with additional manpower and equipment.

  • Review the need for time-bands: Should ELD decide to continue with time-band allocation, fewer voters will be allocated in the morning, to provide a comfortable buffer for other voters who vote outside their time-band, as the morning window is generally preferred by voters.

“In retrospect, we should not have concentrated all senior voters in the morning,” ELD said in its media release.

“Going forward, we will see how best to spread out senior and non-senior voters across time-bands. Given our ageing population, we will also review the logistics (e.g. wheelchairs and availability of seats), and the location and set-up of our PSs to ensure that they are well accessible to our senior voters.”

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