Voters will be allotted recommended time bands to visit polling stations to reduce crowding in the upcoming election, as part of guidelines announced yesterday to allow Singapore to safely hold an election amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
The number of polling stations will be increased by 220 to 1,100, with election officials spread out at least 1m apart, so they can keep a safe distance from one another.
Voters will also be given disposable gloves and be allowed to use their own pens if they wish.
In unveiling the precautionary measures, the Elections Department (ELD) said its key considerations were to minimise the exposure of voters, candidates and polling officials to those who are not well or who may have come into contact with Covid-19 cases, as well as to ensure the safety of all involved, particularly older voters who are more vulnerable.
"We call on all voters, candidates and their agents to be socially responsible, and play their part to ensure a safe election for everyone."
With public health experts expecting Covid-19 to be around for the long haul, and a constitutional deadline to hold the polls by April 14 next year, the next general election is almost certain to happen before the pandemic abates.
But some have warned of the danger of pushing ahead, saying elections create the ideal conditions for the contagious virus to spread.
To avoid having large numbers of people descend on polling stations at the same time, the ELD said a recommended two-hour time slot for voting will be indicated on polling cards and electronic polling cards that voters will receive.
Morning slots will be reserved for seniors who are 65 years and older, so they can vote before others.
The ELD is expecting at least 400 of them at close to two-thirds of the polling stations. It added that while adhering to the time slots is not compulsory, and people will be allowed to vote if they turn up at other times, everyone is strongly encouraged to keep to the recommendations.
Those who show up outside of their allocated time slot may end up having to wait longer.
Meanwhile, to avoid bunching at the start of each two-hour window, people can check the queue situation at their polling station at http://VoteQ.gowhere.gov.sg before showing up.
As with most activities in public areas, voters, election officials and any candidates who visit the stations will also have to adhere to safe distancing rules and wear protective gear such as masks.
However, voters will have to pull down their masks when election officials, clad in surgical masks, disposable gloves and face shields, have to verify their identity vis-a-vis their NRIC.
The increase in polling stations from 880 to 1,100 means each station will serve an average of 2,400 voters, down from 3,000.
There will be temperature screening at the stations to sieve out those with fever or respiratory symptoms, who may or may not be allowed to vote. The ELD said it will decide later based on the prevailing Covid-19 situation during the polls.
With contaminated surfaces identified as one of the main ways Covid-19 spreads, measures will also be in place to minimise contact and ensure hygiene. Voter registration will be done electronically, with people scanning their identity cards instead of handing them to officials.
Hand sanitiser will be made available for voters and election officials.
Before voters can collect their ballot paper, they have to sanitise their hands and put on disposable gloves.
This is to minimise the chances of contaminating the ballot paper which counting agents will have to touch later, as well as the self-inking "X" pens that people will use to mark their ballot.
To supplement these efforts, cleaners will be deployed at all polling stations to clean items and areas described as "common touch-points" such as the self-inking pens and polling booths. They will do so at least once every half an hour.
The ELD estimates that voters will have to spend at most five minutes within the polling stations from registration to voting.
Those on stay-home notice (SHN) orders at designated facilities such as hotels will get to vote at special polling stations as provided for by the Parliamentary Elections (Covid19 Special Arrangements) Act.
For voters on SHN at home, on quarantine orders or who are issued medical certificates for acute respiratory symptoms, the ELD said the decision for these groups will be made and announced only after the writ of election is issued.
Factors to be considered include health risks involved, and the Health Ministry will be consulted.
To ensure that all voters are aware of the measures, the ELD will launch education efforts in all four official languages.
In South Korea, people were allowed to vote by mailing in their ballot papers. However, this will not be possible in Singapore, the ELD said, when asked. It said there was no way to verify if the person who marked the ballot is really the voter.
The same held true for digital voting. Even if people logged in using their SingPass account, it could be others logging in on their behalf, it said. "This will compromise our principle of one man, one vote."