Elections Dept to provide QR code envelopes, confirm receipt of postal votes for overseas voters

Election officials mixing the ballots before they start counting the overseas votes on July 15, 2020. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Overseas Singaporeans voting by post in future elections will get confirmation that their envelopes have been received, and these envelopes will be postage-paid where available, said the Elections Department (ELD) on Tuesday (July 26).

Each return envelope would have a unique QR code that does not contain personal information or identifiers, and only envelopes with valid QR codes will be accepted. This ensures only one postal ballot paper from each registered overseas voter will be counted, said ELD.

The ELD was providing an update to feedback collected on new voting arrangements it had proposed in May for overseas voters and those in nursing homes.

These changes, which make it easier for people to vote, are part of a regular review of election processes.

A total of 13 political parties and 39 nursing home operators provided feedback, as did overseas Singaporeans and members of the public, said ELD.

An online survey of overseas Singaporeans garnered 3,221 responses from across 64 countries, it added.

In May, ELD had said that it planned to roll out postal voting in time for the presidential election, which is due by September next year.

On Tuesday, the department said that 82 per cent of respondents in the online survey supported postal voting, with convenience and being able to exercise the right to vote while living overseas as the top two reasons for their support.

Of the 1,771 respondents who had never voted while living overseas, 83 per cent indicated that they were willing to take part in postal voting.

However, respondents expressed concerns such as the security and safety of ballots - such as lost, damaged or delayed mails, the transparency of the process and the ease and cost of postal voting.

In response, ELD said that on top of requiring a postal voter to log in to the secure ELD Voter Services using Singpass to authenticate his identity and download the return envelope and postal ballot paper, there would be additional safeguards.

On top of unique QR codes, technology will be used to verify the wet-ink signature on the return envelope against the specimen signature provided during registration for overseas voting.

With regard to transparency, ELD said it will make clear the criteria for rejection of return envelopes in the legislation.

For example, damaged or unsealed envelopes, multiple envelopes with the same QR code from one person, non-matching signatures, and envelopes with more than one postal ballot paper would all be rejected.

ELD will also provide information so that candidates and counting agents can verify that there is no ballot paper stuffing or non-legitimate ballots being counted.

It will also give postal voters an update on whether their return envelopes were received after overseas votes have been counted.

For greater convenience, postal voters can download and print their postal ballot papers and return envelopes starting from the day after Nomination Day.

The marked postal ballot papers must be posted before Polling Day in Singapore and reach ELD no later than 10 days after Polling Day.

At the 2020 General Election, there were 6,570 registered overseas voters, and of these, a total of 4,794 cast their ballots at 10 overseas polling stations.

Nursing home arrangements

On the pilot of special voting arrangements at some nursing homes, ELD received feedback on concerns about voting secrecy, in particular for bedbound voters who might vote in close proximity to other residents and the possibility of undue influence from nursing home staff or next-of-kin when voting.

There were also concerns about ascertaining whether the residents have the mental capacity to vote and operational and resource challenges to set up on-site polling stations and to carry out bed-to-bed polling, which ELD had proposed in May.

ELD said a portable lap booth will be provided for bed-to-bed polling so voters can mark their ballot papers in private, shielded by the front and sides of the booth.

It will also provide clear guidelines on what nursing home staff can and cannot do.

For example, they can help a voter to sit up in bed to prepare for bed-to-bed polling but will have to move away when the voter is ready to vote.

Nursing home staff are also not allowed to mark the ballot paper on behalf of a voter or engage in any actions that may influence a voter then, said ELD.

If a voter is physically unable to mark the ballot paper, he can request for an election official to assist him to do so, similar to what is done at a regular polling station. A second election official will witness the process as a safeguard.

ELD will also handle nursing home voters who may lack the mental capacity to vote in a similar manner to voters at regular polling stations.

For example, the voter will not be issued a ballot paper if he does not respond to the election official's repeated requests for his identification document and poll card.

ELD said it will continue to engage nursing home operators before finalising the parameters and selection criteria for the pilot, given that residents across nursing homes can vary widely in terms of their physical and mental health.

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