SINGAPORE - The precautionary measures put in place to protect voters during the Covid-19 outbreak had reduced voting efficiency and led to long queues at some polling stations, the Elections Department (ELD) said on Thursday (Sept 10).
For instance, allocated time bands given to voters in the July 10 election did not succeed in spreading out voter turnout throughout the day.
More resources should have been devoted to large polling stations, the ELD added in a statement, noting there were long queues at 22 out of 25 polling stations that each served more than 4,400 voters.
It set out the findings of its review into the reasons behind unusually long queues seen at polling stations on Polling Day, as well as the measures it will take to “put them right” for future elections.
Following the election, the department apologised for the inconvenience caused to voters and pledged to study the matter.
On Thursday, it said longer than usual queues were seen at about 18 per cent of polling stations – 199 out of a total of 1,097– in the morning, but the situation had improved at most stations by 11am.
About 6 per cent of all polling stations continued to see sustained long queues in the afternoon and 4 per cent saw long queues throughout the day.
For future elections, the ELD said it will increase its pool of reserve manpower and equipment, including providing more e-registration devices.
It will also reduce the number of voters at large polling stations, and review the need for time bands.
A survey by government feedback unit Reach had found that three in 10 voters were not satisfied with their voting experience, which the ELD said is “not acceptable”.
Voter turnout not evenly spread out
Even though time bands in the morning were allocated to senior voters, a third of the voters who showed up at polling stations around Singapore then were not seniors, the ELD said.
The higher concentration of senior voters in the morning also slowed down voter flow-through rate, as more of them required support and assistance from election officers.
The ELD acknowledged that in retrospect, it should not have concentrated all senior voters in the morning.
It will see how best to spread out senior and non-senior voters across time-bands going forward.
The ELD also noted that other stations with significantly higher proportions of younger voters also saw long queues in the afternoon due to the large number of voters and the smaller seven-hour voting window.
This window excludes the morning slots reserved for seniors and the special voting hour from 7pm to 8pm reserved for Singaporeans serving their stay-home notice.
Safe management measures
The ELD had implemented various safe management measures to ensure voters could vote safely, such as temperature taking, requiring voters to put on disposable gloves and hand sanitising.
These measures took up additional time, it said.
The requirement that voters stand 1m apart also contributed to the long queues, the ELD added.
"To reduce the waiting time, ELD did away with the requirement to don disposable gloves in the early part of the morning of Polling Day, as voters would have already sanitised their hands. With this, the queue situation at most polling stations improved significantly by 11am.
"Nevertheless, the other necessary precautionary measures (temperature taking, hand sanitisation and ensuring safe distancing among voters) meant that voters, in general, spent a longer time to queue and vote, as compared with past elections."
Resources at large polling stations could have been better distributed
There were 1,097 polling stations in this year's general election, up from 832 in 2015, and there were an average of 2,400 voters for each station. About 36,000 election officers were deployed across the stations, a 20 per cent increase from 2015.
The ELD said that 25 polling stations, or about 2.3 per cent of all stations, served more than 4,400 voters, and 22 of the 25 experienced long queues.
The previous general election also saw a number of polling stations serving larger numbers of voters, the ELD noted, adding that size alone is not a factor for the long queues.
"Size combined with the precautionary measures must have aggravated the situation," the ELD said.
"Some premises also had two polling stations, and the two queues merged into one some distance away from the polling area, further lengthening the queues."
The department said the 25 large polling stations should have been given more election officers or e-registration devices.
Issues with e-registration devices
The ELD said the original plan, before Covid-19 struck, was for election officers to scan voters' NRICs.
"However, with the Covid-19 situation, voters were asked to self-scan their NRICs. ELD had intended to do roadshows to familiarise voters with the e-registration device, but these had to be called off due to the Covid-19 situation.
"As a result, voters were unfamiliar with the e-registration devices, and this process took longer than planned."
Reach poll finds dissatisfaction tied to longer waiting time
A poll commissioned by the ELD and conducted by Reach found that seven in 10 respondents were satisfied with their experience at polling stations.
Those who voted in schools and community clubs or centres, which typically house polling stations that serve larger numbers of voters, indicated that they had a poorer voting experience because of the length of time it took to vote.
The survey was conducted between July 23 and 30, and involved more than 1,000 Singaporeans over the age of 21. The results were weighted by gender, race and age to ensure they are demographically representative.
Some 78 per cent of respondents felt the polling process was well organised. About 17 per cent were neutral and 4 per cent disagreed.
Asked if election officers were helpful to voters when carrying out their election duties, 77 per cent of respondents agreed, while 20 per cent were neutral and 4 per cent disagreed.
About 80 per cent of voters surveyed said they spent less than 30 minutes voting. A further nine per cent said they took 45 minutes or more to vote.
Voter satisfaction decreased significantly when voters had wait longer to vote. The ELD noted that a “cliff effect” was observed when the voting time reached 30 minutes.
While 84 per cent of voters who took less than 10 minutes agreed they were satisfied with their overall experience at the polling station, only 54 per cent of those who took between 30 and 44 minutes agreed.
Only one in ten of those who took longer than an hour to vote said they were satisfied.
The ELD apologised for the long queues, and thanked voters for their patience.
“We would like to assure voters that ELD will improve our systems and processes as we prepare for future elections,” it said.