SINGAPORE - Assistance will be given to people with disabilities to enable them to vote independently in the upcoming general election on Friday (July 10).
For example, a portable booth that can be placed on their laps is available for wheelchair users for them to mark their ballot papers. The portable lap booth is covered on all sides, except the opening for a user to mark his vote, to ensure voting secrecy, an Elections Department (ELD) spokesman told The Straits Times.
Stencils will be given to voters who are visually impaired, so they can mark the ballot paper themselves without assistance.
The ELD spokesman said: "For the voting itself, an election official will, in the presence of any polling agents who may be observing the voting proceedings, read out the candidates' names in each row of the ballot paper to the voter, before inserting the ballot paper in the stencil and handing it over to the voter.
"The voter is then able to mark his choice on the ballot paper by feeling the box-shaped cut openings that align with the candidates' names."
The stencils were first introduced in the 2011 General Election, after the Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped (SAVH) wrote to the authorities expressing frustration that tools, such as Braille ballot papers or phone voting systems that are used in other countries, were not provided to enable the blind to vote by themselves.
Under Singapore's election laws, voting has to be performed by the voter personally at the designated polling station and not by another person, such as a family member, on his behalf. This is to maintain voting secrecy.
The ELD spokesman said: "All election officials are under oath to maintain voting secrecy. Hence, persons with disabilities can be assured that voting secrecy is not compromised."
Election officials can also help those with physical disabilities mark the ballot paper according to their instructions.
To cater to the needs of the elderly and people with disabilities, there are special drop-off points near the voting area at the polling stations where they can alight from their vehicles.
Voting areas are barrier-free and wheelchairs are provided to voters who need them. Within the voting area, priority queueing is also offered to these voters.
Mr Shalom Lim, 24, suffers from Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a rare genetic disease characterised by progressive muscle wasting.
The first-time voter living in East Coast GRC said he is excited to vote, and is relieved to know that election officials can help him mark his ballot slip according to his instructions, as he does not have the strength to do so with his hands.
He said: "My vote counts and I'm proud and grateful to be able to vote in this general election and play a small part in determining the individuals who will represent the people in my community."
Mr Edwin Khoo, 43, is blind and lives in Chua Chu Kang GRC. The head of the Braille production and library services centre at the SAVH said the stencils will enable him to mark his choice more confidently.
Before the stencils were introduced, he said election officials would guide his hand to help him gauge where to mark his choice, although he felt that was not ideal. He prefers not to ask the election officials to mark his vote for him.
"We should have every right to mark the cross ourselves as a true citizen," he said. "With the stencil, I can feel exactly where to mark my cross. It gives me more confidence that I have marked my vote correctly and it is a good step forward (for a more inclusive society)."
Like Mr Lim, he hopes the ELD will continue to find ways to make the voting process more inclusive for persons with disabilities in future elections.