COVID-19: Recommended time-bands for voters to cast ballots among new safety measures for elections
SINGAPORE: Voters will get a recommended time-band to cast their ballots on polling day, so as to spread out the crowd across polling hours, the Elections Department (ELD) said on Monday (Jun 8).
The time-band was among a range of contingency plans announced on Monday by the ELD to ensure safe voting if the next General Election (GE) is held during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Other measures include having more polling stations, dedicating time-bands for seniors to vote and requiring voters to sanitise their hands and to wear gloves.
“These measures will protect the health and safety of voters, candidates and election officials, and ensure that the next GE can be conducted safely should it be held during the COVID-19 situation,” ELD said in a press release.
Voters will be allotted a recommended two-hour voting time-band, which will be indicated on their hard copy poll card and e-Poll card on the SingPass mobile app, said authorities.
Senior voters aged 65 and above will be given time-bands in the morning from 8am to noon. While ELD said that electors should not bring non-voters, such as children, to the polling stations, senior voters who require help may be accompanied by a household member.
ELD added that voters may vote at any time when the polling stations are open, but are encouraged to cast their ballots during their allotted recommended time-bands. The time-band will be the same for all the voters in the same household, if there are no seniors living with them.
In previous elections, queues tend to be long during the first two hours of polling, said ELD.
“So now with this introduction of the time-band, we are spreading out the crowd,” the department said. “We will be flexible. Even though we encourage people not to do so, if the whole family with a senior voter wishes to come (together) in the morning, we will still allow them to vote.”
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MORE POLLING STATIONS, CONTACTLESS VOTING
There will be 1,100 polling stations, up from 880, with the number of voters expected at each station to be reduced from an average of 3,000 to 2,400 people.
Responding to CNA's queries, ELD said on Tuesday that the number of public officers deployed during the next election will also increase by 20 per cent. Around 30,000 officers had been deployed during the 2015 election.
There will also be a digital service for voters to check the queue situation at their assigned polling station before setting off to vote.
With e-Registration and voters scanning their NRICs by themselves, no contact with election officials is expected, ELD said. Voters will have to wear masks, but will need to lower them for identity verification when registering to vote, said ELD.
Voters will also have undergo temperature screening at the start of the queue to detect people with fever or respiratory symptoms.
“A decision on whether such persons will be allowed to vote will be made later based on the prevailing COVID-19 situation,” the department said.
Voters will then sanitise their hands and wear disposable gloves before receiving a ballot paper. This is to minimise the risk of contaminating ballot papers or the pens that are used in polling stations. They may bring their own pens, if they wish to.
ELD said that it does not expect voting to take longer, as the process will be faster for each voter with e-Registration.
“Each voter should not need to spend more than five minutes within the polling station - including registering, sanitising their hands, putting on disposable gloves, and voting,” the department said.
The temperatures of all candidates and polling agents will also be taken if they wish to enter the polling station, and anyone with fever or respiratory symptoms will be refused entry. They will have to check in and check out with the SafeEntry app for contact tracing.
But voters are not required to use the SafeEntry app, as the e-Registration system records the time when voters register at the polling station and that can be used for contact tracing if necessary.
Election officials will also be equipped with protective gear such as surgical masks, disposable gloves, face shields and hand sanitisers, and have access to water and soap to wash their hands regularly. Common touch-points, such as the polling booths, will be cleaned at least once every half an hour.
CAN THOSE WHO ARE ILL VOTE?
The decision on whether those on quarantine orders, serving stay-home notices at home, or on medical leave for flu symptoms, can vote will be announced at a later time, ELD said.
When the Writ of Election is issued, it will consult the Ministry of Health (MOH) to assess the public health risks of allowing such voters to cast their ballots.
When asked if this will affect voting turnout, it said: “For past elections, it's also true that people who were sick do not turn up to vote. So this is just an additional advisory: Because of the COVID-19 situation, we are asking the voters to exercise social responsibility.
“If you have an infectious disease, then you should rest at home rather than coming out to vote.”
ELD added that voting arrangements, such as separate areas for those who are sick or have a high temperature, may be possible, but this will depend on the health advisory at the time.
Last month, the Parliamentary Elections (COVID-19 Special Arrangements) Act 2020 was passed in Parliament. The Act allows voters serving stay-home notices at designated facilities, such as hotels, to vote at special polling stations, away from other voters.
Amid the COVID-19 situation, ELD will be stepping up voter education on the measures in place to ensure that polling can be done safely, it said. This includes public education material that will be carried on free-to-air TV and radio, advertisements on print media and other platforms, and a brochure on safe voting, which will be sent to all households together with the poll cards.
"Voters should exercise social responsibility and play their part to ensure a safe election for everyone. This includes not going to vote if they are unwell, and voting during their allotted time-band," it said.
Full campaigning guidelines were not announced on Monday, although changes to election advertising were released. Opposition parties have called for the guidelines to be released early so that there will be time to prepare.
ELD said that it is drawing up various guidelines based on different scenarios and will release them as soon as they are ready.
Guidelines for physical rallies, walkabouts and house-to-house visits will be guided by prevailing MOH guidelines on safe distancing and safe management.
“As these activities involve large group gatherings, the guidelines will depend on the COVID-19 situation at the time. ELD will therefore share these guidelines at a later date,” it said.
Measures to ensure voters have access to the campaigning messages of political parties and candidates will be put in place, should large group activities be restricted, said ELD. This may include additional TV broadcast time for candidates and political parties.
"ELD is committed to giving political parties and candidates as much lead-time as possible to prepare their campaigning activities. However, putting out the guidelines early would mean that there could be further changes as the COVID-19 situation evolves," it said.
“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."
Besides provisions announced earlier to let candidates submit their nominations by proxy, ELD said there will be additional safety measures on Nomination Day.
These include temperature screening, using the SafeEntry app for contact tracing and safe distancing measures within the Nomination Centre. All those in the centre will be required to wear masks at all times.
There will be a separate area to handle the nominations of candidates who are unwell, and sanitisation procedures, similar to those at the polling stations, will be in place.
ELD encouraged candidates and election agents to use its digital services to prepare the necessary documents required for nomination. The system will be available once the Writ of Election is issued.
As announced earlier, unwell candidates can authorise a representative to file nomination papers on their behalf.
READ: The sooner the General Election is held, the sooner Singaporeans can tackle challenges ahead: DPM Heng
Singapore’s next General Election has to be called by Apr 14, 2021.
Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said on May 27 that “elections are coming nearer by the day".
"The sooner we get it done, the earlier we can rally everybody together to deal with these very significant challenges ahead, and also to deal with these very significant uncertainties in the months and years ahead," Mr Heng said.