Electronic attendance-taking at polls

The Straits Times reported on May 20, 2017 that the Elections Department plans to introduce electronic registration of voters at polling stations during elections. As this potentially affects the ability of polling agents to monitor the polling process, MARUAH wrote a letter to the editor to raise our concerns and to urge the Elections Department to provide advance notice of any changes, and to take public feedback into account before making any changes.

Don’t trade security for convenience (Straits Times, May 25, 2017)

The Elections Department recently revealed that it was testing a system that will electronically register voters during elections (Elections Dept to pilot electronic voter registration; May 20).

Thanks to the efforts of the civil service, Singapore has a very efficient and fuss-free polling process, without problems which even some well-established democracies face – long queues, voter fraud and other electoral misconduct.

However, there is always a trade-off between security and efficiency.

Elections officials must guard against not just the risk of external interference but also the misconduct of voters and candidates.

To ensure that a person is entitled to vote and to prevent him or her from voting more than once, presiding officers check the electoral register and physically mark against the name of the voter.

Crucially, this is done within earshot of polling agents appointed by candidates so that the polling agents may also check against their own copies of the electoral register.

Whether registration is done electronically or manually, it is imperative that polling agents have an independent means of verifying a voter’s eligibility and of preventing plural voting.

The goal of reducing waiting time is laudable but this cannot be allowed to undermine the safeguards in our system against electoral fraud.

We urge the Elections Department to publicise any proposed changes to voting procedures far in advance of implementation and to take feedback from the public, political parties and other stakeholders into account before making any changes.

Ngiam Shih Tung
Vice-President
Maruah

The Elections Department replied to the letter two days later, saying that the electronic system was only for registration of attendance, and not for issuance of ballot papers. They also said that they would hold roadshows to collect feedback before implementation.

No sacrificing voting security for convenience (Straits Times, May 27, 2017)

We thank Mr Ngiam Shih Tung for his letter (Don’t trade security for convenience; May 25).

The current registration procedure at a Polling Station requires an election official to manually search for and strike off the voter’s name from the hard copy of the Polling Station Register (PSR).

The proposed eRegistration procedure registers a voter by electronically scanning his identity card and marking his record in the electronic copy of the PSR.

This will allow registration to be done in a shorter time, and reduce waiting time for voters. The electronic registration system will also alert the election official if an individual not eligible to vote turns up to register, or if a voter who registered earlier turns up again to register.

After a voter has been registered in the proposed new system, he will proceed to a different counter to be issued with a ballot paper.

During the issuance of the ballot paper, election officials will continue to read out the name and serial number of the voter in the PSR.

Polling agents will be seated within earshot of these counters to enable them to check against their own copies of the PSR, as per existing practice.

The Elections Department (ELD) plans to pilot eRegistration on a small scale first. Ahead of the pilot, we will conduct roadshows to familiarise voters involved in the pilot with the new registration procedure.

We will take into account feedback from the roadshows before we commence with the pilot. We will also review the lessons from the pilot before assessing the approach for full implementation.

Security will not be traded off for the sake of convenience. The ELD is fully committed to ensuring the integrity of voting procedures and of the entire electoral process.

Ang Boon Chin

Deputy Head (Operations)
Elections Department

MARUAH Election Watch has been monitoring Parliamentary and Presidental elections in Singapore since 2011 and has published several position papers on electoral issues such as Group Representation Constituencies(GRCs) and constituency boundaries  in Singapore. We will continue to monitor issues affecting Singaporeans’ right to free and fair elections.

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