SINGAPORE — Those who are feeling unwell should exercise social responsibility and not turn up to vote on Polling Day if the general election (GE) is held amid the COVID-19 pandemic, said the Elections Department (ELD) on Monday (8 June).
Such individuals can apply to be restored to the Register of Electors without penalty after the GE, the ELD added. No documentary proof will be required - they need only state their reasons for not voting.
In response to queries at a media briefing on whether the advice might lead to a low voter turnout or that it would set a bad precedent, ELD officials pointed out that similar advice had been given in past elections in Singapore. Pointing to South Korea as an example of how the country had safely conducted elections recently, the officials expressed hopes that safety measures to be put in place will reassure Singaporean voters and not impact turnout.
The ELD elaborated on the slew of safety measures – in line with prevailing Ministry of Health (MOH) guidelines – that will be implemented for the coming GE if it is held amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The agency said that the measures will ensure the safety of voters, candidates and election officials during the nomination and polling processes.
However, the ELD did not clarify on various possible scenarios at the briefing. For example, will political parties be given sufficient time to campaign, given public health requirements and that the date of the election remains unknown? Can large scale political rallies and walkabouts still be held?
Officials would only say that they are assessing the various scenarios and aim to provide further details as soon as possible. Any measures taken will be in line with MOH’s requirements at the time, they added.
“ELD is committed to giving political parties and candidates as much lead-time as possible, to prepare their campaigning activities. However, putting out the (campaigning) guidelines early would mean that there could be further changes, as the COVID-19 situation evolves.”
ELD added, “As COVID-19 is likely to still be present beyond April 2021, by which time the GE must be held, we strongly encourage candidates and political parties to plan for modes of campaigning that minimise large group gatherings.”
General election due
The next GE must be held by 14 April 2021. However, comments by senior leaders have raised expectations that Singaporeans will be going to the polls in the coming months.
In a television interview last month, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said that the sooner polls are held, the earlier the elected government can rally Singapore together to deal with significant long-term economic challenges.
Shortly before Heng’s comments, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said that there is “not much time” left for Singapore’s government to hold its next general election as the country has to dissolve parliament in January, months ahead of an April deadline.
Can infected/quarantined persons vote?
Voters on Stay-Home Notice at designated facilities such as hotels will vote at special polling stations away from other voters, as permitted under the Parliamentary Elections (COVID-19 Special Arrangements) Act 2020.
After the Writ of Election is issued, the ELD will consult the MOH to assess the public health risks and whether to allow other affected voters, such as those on medical certificate for acute respiratory symptoms, to vote.
It will then make a decision based on the prevailing COVID-19 situation at that time.
Temperature screenings, safe-distancing
All voters, candidates and polling agents must have their temperature taken before they are allowed to enter the polling station. Anyone detected with fever or respiratory symptoms will be refused entry.
A decision on whether such persons will be allowed to vote will be made later based on the MOH’s guidelines. It is unclear if separate polling booths will be set up for them.
Polling agents and candidates will also have to use the SafeEntry app to check-in/out for contract tracing. This is not required for voters as the e-Registration system records the time when voters register at the polling station and can be used for contact tracing if necessary.
Meanwhile, the seating area for election officials and polling agents will be spaced out to keep them at least one metre apart.
More polling stations, time-bands allotted
As part of crowd control measures, the number of polling stations will be increased from 880 to 1,100. This means the number of voters per polling station will be reduced from an average of 3,000 to 2,400. Voters should not bring non-voters such as children along.
A recommended two-hour voting time-band will also be allotted to spread out voters across polling hours. This will be indicated on the hardcopy poll card and e-Poll card (on SingPass mobile app). Senior voters will be allotted recommended time-bands in the morning as an additional precautionary measure.
Voters are encouraged to cast their ballots during their allotted time-bands, although they may do so at any time when the polling stations are open.
There will also be a digital service for voters to check the queue situation at their assigned polling station (http://VoteQ.gowhere.gov.sg) before setting off to vote.
PPE, hand sanitisers
Voters will be required to sanitise their hands and don disposable gloves before receiving a ballot paper. They may bring their own pens to mark ballot papers.
Election officials will also don appropriate protective gear such as surgical masks and disposable gloves to carry out their duties safely. Cleaners will be deployed to clean common touch-points such as polling within the polling area at least once every half hour.
With e-registration, each voter should not need to spend more than five minutes within the polling station. Voters will self-scan their NRIC for registration – no contact with election officials is required.
In light of safety measures and requirements, an additional 20 per cent more election officials will be deployed to man the polling stations.
“We call on all voters, candidates and their agents to be socially responsible, and play their part to ensure a safe election for everyone,” said the ELD.
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