SINGAPORE: Insufficient resources at large polling stations, uneven voter turnout as well as the need for COVID-19 safety measures contributed to the "abnormally long queues" at some polling stations during the 2020 General Election, said the Elections Department (ELD) on Thursday (Sep 10).
Local voter turnout at 95.63 per cent was the highest since the 1997 General Election.
There were "longer than usual queues" at 199 of 1,097 polling stations on polling day. "However, 68 polling stations saw sustained long queues in the afternoon and 47 polling stations (had) sustained long queues throughout the day," said ELD in its review.
Following the long queues throughout the Jul 10 polling day, ELD announced the extension of voting hours to 10pm less than an hour before the original end at 8pm, "so that voters can cast their votes".
The move prompted opposition parties to raise their concerns, with the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) and Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) calling the last-minute extension of polling hours “highly irregular”.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at a press conference after the poll results were announced said that a "thorough review" will be done on the voting arrangements, which "could have been done better".
NECESSARY COVID-19 SAFETY MEASURES
Necessary COVID-19 safe management measures were among the reasons for the delays, the department said.
Measures such as temperature taking, putting on disposable gloves and hand sanitising, as well as the 1m safe distancing requirement contributed to the lengthening of queues.
"These measures were necessary and effective ... There were no reported COVID-19 community cases affecting voters and election officials as a result of their participation in GE2020," said the ELD.
"However, the precautionary measures also contributed to a reduction in the efficiency of polling."
READ: GE2020: ELD apologises for polling station queues, says gloves requirement contributed to long wait times
To reduce waiting time, ELD did away with the requirement to don disposable gloves in the early part of the morning of polling day, as "voters would have already sanitised their hands".
The queue situation at most polling stations improved significantly by 11am, said ELD.
LARGE POLLING STATIONS
Twenty-five large polling stations should have been better resourced with more election officers or e-registration devices.
In GE2020, there were 1,097 polling stations, up from 832 in GE2015, to allow for safe distancing. A total of 36,000 election officials were deployed, 20 per cent more than in GE2015.
The average number of voters per polling station was about 2,400.
However, 25 polling stations had more than 4,400 voters, of which 22 experienced long voter queues.
"There were also a number of large (polling stations) in previous GEs, so size alone was not a factor for the long queues. But size combined with the precautionary measures must have aggravated the situation," said ELD.
"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."
ELD proposes that the pool of reserve manpower and equipment be increased for future elections.
"We will increase the reserve pool of EOs, who can be deployed quickly to (polling stations) to augment the onsite team to handle contingencies, including any unforeseen build-ups in queues," said ELD.
It will also provide more e-registration devices and put in place "more robust redundancies" to replace faulty devices.
Issues with e-Registration devices were reported at GE2020. The pre-COVID-19 plan was for election officials to scan voters' NRICs.
"However, with the COVID-19 situation, voters were asked to self-scan their NRICs," ELD said, adding that some voters were unfamiliar with the devices.
The department had intended to hold roadshows to familiarise voters with the devices, but these had to be called off amid the pandemic.
"For GE2020, the procurement of e-registration devices was done before COVID-19, and the vendor could not supply more devices to create a comfortable buffer in time to match the increased number of PSs due to the COVID-19 situation," added ELD.
The department proposes that the number of voters at large polling stations be reduced in future elections.
"Wherever feasible, ELD will split large polling stations. For GE2020, larger polling stations at HDB void decks and pavilions were split into two due to their small available spaces, but larger polling stations at schools and community clubs were not," the department said.
If the stations cannot be split, the large stations will be "better organised and resourced" for future elections.
READ: GE2020: SDP calls for independent inquiry after error on Polling Day prevented woman from voting
ALLOCATED TIME-BANDS DID NOT WORK
Voter turnout was not evenly spread out across the voting hours, despite the allocated time-bands for voting that were introduced at GE2020.
ELD's recommended time-bands in the morning were allocated to senior voters, but one-third of voters in the morning were non-senior voters.
The higher concentration of senior voters in the morning also slowed down voter flow-through rate, as more of them required support and assistance from election officers.
At the same time, 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 7-hour voting window, after excluding the morning window reserved for seniors and the 7pm to 8pm special voting hour.
As such, "the allocated time-bands did not succeed in spreading out voter turnout evenly through the day", said ELD.
Should the time-band allocation be continued in future elections, ELD said it will allocate fewer voters 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," said ELD.
"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."
3 IN 10 LESS THAN SATISFIED WITH VOTING EXPERIENCE
Three in 10 voters had a less than satisfactory experience at the polls, according to a survey by MCI REACH, which ELD commissioned to gauge voters' experience and identify areas for improvement.
The other 70 per cent of voters were satisfied with their experience at the polling stations. But those who voted at schools and community centres or clubs, which housed polling stations with more voters, registered a poorer voting experience because of the length of time it took to vote.
About 80 per cent of voters said they spent less than 30 minutes to vote, while about 9 per cent said they took 45 minutes or more to vote.
Voter satisfaction decreased significantly with the increasing time voters took to cast their vote and a "cliff effect" was observed when the voting time reached 30 minutes.
In terms of the polling process, 78 per cent agreed that it was well organised, compared to 17 per cent who were neutral and 4 per cent who disagreed.
The survey also found 77 per cent of voters agreeing that the election officers were helpful in carrying their duties, while 20 per cent were neutral and 4 per cent disagreed.
ELD said it will put right the lessons drawn from GE2020 through the review for future elections.
"Even though the MCI REACH poll found that 7 in 10 voters were satisfied with their experience at the polling stations, that 3 in 10 voters had a less than satisfactory voting experience is not acceptable.
"We apologise for this, and thank voters for their patience. We would like to assure voters that ELD will improve our systems and processes as we prepare for future elections," said ELD.
"We would also like to thank all EOs for their dedication and hard work. They gave their best under difficult conditions, and did well in ensuring that the polling process remained fair, robust and safe for Singaporeans despite COVID-19."
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