Letter to Elections department on voting procedures for visually-handicapped Singaporeans

MARUAH (Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism, Singapore) has written to the Elections department regarding voting procedures for visually-handicapped Singaporeans. The letter is reproduced below.

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5 May 2011

Mr Lee Seng Lup
Head, Elections Department
Singapore

Dear Sir,

Re: Proper voting procedures for visually-handicapped Singaporeans

I write on behalf of MARUAH (Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism, Singapore), a registered human rights NGO in Singapore. We are writing to you in respect of certain issues relating to the voting procedures applicable to visually-handicapped Singaporeans.

It has come to our attention that when visually-handicapped Singaporeans vote, their votes may not be secret, and they also have no assurance that their votes are being properly cast in accordance with their wishes. This appears to be causing significant concern within the visually-handicapped community in Singapore.

We understand that the current voting procedure for visually-handicapped Singaporeans requires the voter to inform the Presiding Officer of his/her choice, with the Presiding Officer then marking the ballot paper on behalf of the voter. This presents two issues, viz. the Presiding Officer becomes aware of how the voter had cast his/her vote, and there being no way to confirm whether or not the Presiding Officer had in fact marked the ballot paper in accordance with the voter’s instructions.

We note that this is in accordance with Section 42(5) of the Parliamentary Elections Act (Cap. 128) provides:

“The presiding officer, on the application of a voter who is incapacitated by blindness or other physical cause from voting in the manner prescribed by this Act, shall mark the ballot paper of the voter in the manner directed by the voter, and shall cause the ballot paper to be placed in the ballot box.”

Nevertheless we request that the Elections Department make available ballot papers in Braille for all polling stations for visually-handicapped persons, so that they can cast their own vote without requiring help from any official.

As the political parties and candidate numbers are limited, it would be reasonable, and not too costly, to print such these ballot papers so as to ensure that all Singaporeans, including the visually-handicapped, have the right to a secret ballot, and also give visually-handicapped Singaporeans the confidence that their votes are properly cast. This would also be consistent with international best practices on voting procedures, as practised in a number of developed countries.

If it is not practicable to implement this approach at this juncture, we propose, as an interim alternative measure, that a trusted companion be allowed to accompany the visually-handicapped voter and the Presiding Officer, throughout the process of voting. This would at least alleviate the voter’s concern about whether the ballot paper correctly reflects his/her choice, thereby enhancing the integrity of the voting process. This is also easily implemented without requiring any investment in additional resources or materials by the Elections Department.

To be clear, we do not doubt and we are not seeking to cast doubt on the integrity of the Presiding Officers. But in a democracy, it is important to ensure the independent verification of the accuracy of the voter’s ballot, which will strengthen Singaporeans’ confidence in the integrity of the voting process.

We hope that the Elections Department can implement at least the above interim alternative measure on Polling Day, so as to ensure that all Singaporeans have the same voting rights in these watershed General Elections.

Yours sincerely,

Braema Mathi
President, MARUAH

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