Parliament: Actions election officials can take when sealed ballot box is lost

About 30 changes have been proposed to improve the administration of elections. If approved, they are likely to take effect before the next general election, which is due in 2021. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - When any sealed ballot box is lost or destroyed before the ballots can be counted, election officials can abandon the vote count for the affected polling station, under changes being proposed in Parliament on Monday (Sept 10).

And should the number of votes in the particular polling station be enough to sway the electoral result for that constituency, the electors in the polling station must go for a fresh poll, acccording to the Parliamentary Elections (Amendment) Bill.

The suggestion is one of about 30 changes being introduced to improve the administration of elections, with the new rules, if approved by Parliament, likely to take effect before the next general election, which is due by 2021.

The Bill was introduced in Parliament by Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing, formerly minister in the Prime Minister's Office.

Another change sets out the election procedure in the event of contingencies, such as riots, fires or floods, said the Elections Department (ELD) in a fact sheet issued to the media.

If passed, the Bill allows the Returning Officer to suspend proceedings for up to two hours to assess the situation and decide on the course of action.

He can change the time and place of the nomination if a disruption were to happen on Nomination Day, for example, but the proceedings must still take place on the same day. Notice of his decision will be published in the Government Gazette.

Maps of the various polling districts will also be published on the ELD website, replacing the current method of using textual descriptions of road boundaries in the Gazette.

The Bill also allows candidates to use electronic fund transfer systems to pay their election deposits, while cash payment will be accepted only if the Returning Officer allows it. Around 20 per cent of candidates paid their deposits in cash in the previous election.

Candidates and their election agents, who have been submitting receipts and bills of their election expenses to the ELD, will no longer need to do so, but are required to keep these documents for a specified period of time and allow them to be checked.

"This will make it more convenient for candidates without diluting accountability," the ELD said.

The formula to compute the election deposit will be simplified to be based on an elected MP's monthly wage, which is currently $13,750, rounded to the nearest $500. Currently, the election deposit is set at 8 per cent of an MP's total annual allowance.

People prohibited from conducting election activities, such as primary or secondary school students, undischarged bankrupt persons and foreigners, will also not be allowed to prejudice the electoral prospects of another political party, candidate or group of candidates.

Currently, the law states only that people in this prohibited category are not allowed to promote or aid candidates in non-clerical work.

The ELD said the Bill also brings the Parliamentary Elections Act in line with recent changes to the Constitution, which was last amended in 2016, and the Presidential Elections Act last year.

These changes include:

- Increasing the number of Non-Constituency MPs to 12, up from the current nine,

- Making the adjudication of disputed votes more efficient by disregarding any marks made outside the demarcated area of the ballot paper, and

- Empowering the Returning Officer to provide 17 days, from 10 days previously, for overseas votes to reach Singapore for counting if the number of votes is material to the election outcome.

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