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ELD unveils proposals to make voting easier for overseas S'poreans, nursing home residents

SINGAPORE — The Elections Department (ELD) is looking into new voting arrangements to allow overseas Singaporeans to cast their votes by mail and those in nursing homes to vote without having to leave the premises.

At the 2020 General Election, 21 per cent of citizens who voted were aged above 65, up from 14 per cent in 2011.
At the 2020 General Election, 21 per cent of citizens who voted were aged above 65, up from 14 per cent in 2011.
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  • The Elections Department announced a proposal for overseas Singaporeans to vote by mail
  • In another proposal, nursing home residents would be able to vote without leaving the premises
  • The department is seeking feedback on the ideas from registered political parties, nursing home operators and Singaporeans abroad
  • The proposals could be ready to go by the time of the presidential election, which is due in 2023

SINGAPORE — The Elections Department (ELD) is looking into new voting arrangements to allow overseas Singaporeans to cast their votes by mail and those in nursing homes to vote without having to leave the premises.

The proposals, announced by ELD in a media statement on Wednesday (May 25), could be rolled out in time for the next Presidential Election, which is due to take place next year. 

The ELD said that it is holding consultations with different stakeholders, which includes registered political parties, nursing home operators and Singaporeans based overseas, and will be able to announce updates in July. 

The proposed voting arrangements for older voters residing in nursing homes are similar to those made for voters serving stay-home notices due to Covid-19 during the General Election in 2020 (GE2020), where they were able to cast their votes without leaving their isolation rooms.  

For Singaporeans based overseas, they may be allowed to mail in their votes instead of having to travel to polling stations to cast their votes. 

However, there are unique challenges such as ensuring the security and secrecy of the ballot in relation to both proposals, the ELD said.

For example, the profile of residents across more than 80 nursing homes in Singapore vary widely in terms of physical and mental health, which means that the assistance needed would be very different. 

For overseas Singaporeans, it is a challenge to ensure that friends or family sharing the same address are not voting on a person's behalf, or to be able to tell whether the person is voting "under duress or benefit". 

FOR OVERSEAS SINGAPOREANS

There are about 200,000 Singaporeans based overseas.

At GE2020, some 4,794 Singaporeans overseas voted, an increase from 3,500 about a decade earlier in 2011. 

The pandemic, which led governments across the world to introduce strict travel rules, prevented many Singaporeans overseas from travelling to the 10 polling stations overseas, located in cities such as Hong Kong, London, New York and Shanghai. 

The ELD will also be taking lessons from other countries that have introduced postal polling during the pandemic, such as the United States. 

The proposed arrangement would allow Singaporeans overseas to receive postal ballot papers and return envelopes via electronic means to ensure that they received them in a timely manner.

When registering as postal voters, overseas citizens would have to submit a specimen signature, which is a signature kept by an organisation that would allow it to verify other signatures submitted by the same person.

Voters would then have to sign physically on the return envelope when mailing it back to the ELD, which would allow the department to authenticate the return envelope. 

Finally, postal voters would have to return their marked postal ballot papers to reach the ELD no later than 10 days after polling day to be accepted for counting. 

FOR VOTERS RESIDING IN NURSING HOMES 

Due to Singapore's rapidly ageing population, 21 per cent of citizens who voted at GE2020 were aged above 65, up from 14 per cent in 2011.

The ELD said: "While we have enhanced voting accessibility over the years by increasing the number of polling stations, among other initiatives, ELD continues to explore how we can further enhance voting accessibility for elderly voters." 

A pilot will be run at some nursing homes. The department will finalise the criteria to select the nursing homes for the pilot after consulting with stakeholders. The criteria includes the profile and number of voters residing in nursing homes. 

The proposed voting arrangements include setting up an on-site polling station in areas such as the foyer or hall, all within the nursing homes. 

This would allow mobile voters to make their way to the on-site polling station, which are similar to the regular polling stations in Singapore, to cast their votes. 

Another proposal is to deploy a mobile team to take the ballot box and ballot papers from bed to bed for those who may have mobility issues.

Ms Irene Ong, director of two nursing homes, Irene Nursing Home and Serene Nursing Home, told TODAY in a phone interview that she welcomes the proposed arrangements but has some concerns because a number of the residents suffer from illnesses such as dementia, which affect their mental capacity to vote. 

She said: "For the last election, only a few were able to go because their relatives took them to polling stations. Otherwise, we needed to write a letter to say that they were not able to vote and needed to be excused." 

Ms Ong added that the two nursing homes are relatively smaller than the average facility, with fewer than 70 beds available in either, and that it may not be "viable" to have polling stations on the premises. 

"I don't know whether this would be cost-effective but if we had more residents, like around 100 to 200, then it may be more viable."  

Mr Law Kai Bin, 24, a fifth-year medical student at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, said that the proposed plans would make it easier for Singaporeans based overseas to vote because travelling to polling stations is a major barrier for most. 

He had planned to cast his vote during GE2020 at a polling station in Canberra, which is a three-hour drive away from Sydney, but found out upon arriving that he did not register in time to vote. 

"I was planning a trip there already and voting was secondary to me, so I wasn't too affected that I couldn't vote. But the processes could be easier. Even though I was coming from Sydney (which is quite nearby), I already felt that it was inconvenient," he added. 

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Elections Department nursing homes voting General Election overseas voters

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