Polling stations to get more resources in future elections

ELD to reduce number of voters at large polling stations and review the need for time bands

Voters queueing outside Palm View Primary School at around 7pm on Polling Day. The Elections Department will increase its pool of reserve election officers in future, so that they can be quickly deployed to polling stations to help handle contingenci
Voters queueing outside Palm View Primary School at around 7pm on Polling Day. The Elections Department will increase its pool of reserve election officers in future, so that they can be quickly deployed to polling stations to help handle contingencies like unforeseen build-up in queues. ST FILE PHOTO

The Elections Department (ELD) yesterday set out several improvements it will make to its processes for future elections, to avoid the long queues seen at some polling stations in the recent general election.

These include boosting manpower and equipment allocated to polling stations, reducing the number of voters at large polling stations and reviewing the need for time bands.

"We recognise that the GE2020 precautionary measures, while intended to protect public health and safety, reduced the voting efficiency for Singapore voters and led to sustained queues at some polling stations," the ELD said in a statement.

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, the ELD said.

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.

After the July 10 election, the ELD apologised for the inconvenience caused to voters and pledged to study the matter.

Yesterday, it set out the findings of its review and the measures it will take to "put them right" for future elections.

It said the queues were caused by several factors such as the safe management measures put in place to protect voters during the Covid-19 outbreak and the fact that resources at larger polling stations could have been better distributed.

To address these issues, it will increase its pool of reserve election officers in future, so that they can be quickly deployed to polling stations to help handle contingencies like unforeseen build-up in queues.

It will also provide more e-registration devices, which it noted have generally sped up the registration process. This will also ensure that faulty devices are replaced quickly.

The procurement of these devices for GE2020 was done before the Covid-19 outbreak, it said.

The vendor was not able to supply more devices in time when the number of polling stations was increased subsequently to allow for safe distancing.

Large polling stations will be split up wherever feasible, the ELD added.

It noted that for GE2020, larger stations at Housing Board void decks as well as pavilions in these estates were split owing to the small available space, but those in schools as well as community clubs and centres were not.

If it is not feasible to split up a polling station owing to the lack of alternative premises in the area, the larger stations will be better organised and given more resources such as additional manpower and equipment, the ELD said.

It will also review the use of time bands to spread out voters throughout the day.

The ELD noted that in GE2020, the allocated time bands had failed to spread out voter turnout throughout the day.

If it decides to continue allocating time bands to voters, fewer will be given the morning slots, it said.

This is to provide a more comfortable buffer for other voters who vote outside their time band as voters generally prefer to vote in the morning, it noted.

"In retrospect, we should not have concentrated all senior voters in the morning. Going forward, we will see how best to spread out senior and non-senior voters across time bands," said the ELD.

"Given our ageing population, we will also review the logistics such as wheelchairs and availability of seats, and the location and set-up of our polling stations to ensure that they are well accessible to our senior voters."

Despite the issues voters faced, the precautionary measures implemented were necessary and effective, the ELD said.

The local voter turnout was the highest since GE1997, at 95.63 per cent, it said, adding that there were no reported Covid-19 community cases affecting voters and election officials as a result of their participation in GE2020.

A poll by government feedback unit Reach found three in 10 voters did not have a satisfactory experience in the July 10 election, which the ELD said is "unacceptable".

The department 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.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 11, 2020, with the headline 'Polling stations to get more resources in future elections'. Print Edition | Subscribe