Singapore’s next general election must be held by 14 April 2021, and it is unclear whether the current coronavirus pandemic will clear up by then. However, holding a general election amidst the pandemic is not impossible.
For instance, South Korea held its elections last month and had implemented measures like temperature screening, safe distancing and requiring voters to wear masks and gloves during polling.
Singapore’s existing Parliamentary Elections Act (PEA) allows the taking of some precautions to ensure the holding of a safe election here, such as the President having the power to postpone the date of nomination of candidates (i.e. Nomination Day) to another day or change the place of nomination because of a health hazard.
However, to further help Singapore hold its own general election safely, the Singapore Parliament has passed the Parliamentary Elections (COVID-19 Special Arrangements) Act (“the Act”) to provide special arrangements necessary for this election to be held safely during the coronavirus pandemic. The Act came into effect on 26 May 2020.
This article will explain in detail the arrangements prescribed by the Act, including those provided for individuals affected by quarantine or stay-home notices.
Voters Quarantined or On Stay-Home Notices at their Place of Accommodation
In Singapore, it is compulsory for all Singapore citizens to vote. If they do not vote, they will be removed from the certified register of the electoral division they belong to and cannot vote at any subsequent Presidential or Parliamentary elections unless they apply to restore their name to the register.
However, the Act provides that voters are excused from voting if they are subject to a COVID-19 quarantine order or required to stay at home on Polling Day.
Such voters will be treated as having a good and sufficient reason for not voting and will be entitled to have his or her name restored to the register of voters without needing to apply or paying any penalty.
This excusal helps minimise contact between voters on quarantine or stay-home orders with the general public. It would also help alleviate concerns from other voters who might be worried about voting because they may come into contact with voters under such orders.
What about voters with acute respiratory symptoms who are on medical leave and are not allowed to leave their homes?
While the provisions of the Act do not explicitly cover voters who are on medical leave and not allowed to leave their place of accommodation for 5 days due to acute respiratory symptoms, the explanatory statement in the Act has clarified that these voters will also be excused from voting. They will also be entitled to have their names restored to the register of voters without incurring any penalty.
However, they will need to apply to restore their names to the register after the election.
This can be done by filing an application online with their SingPass login, or through over-the-counter assistance at either any community centre/club or the Elections Department. This will likely require proof of the medical leave covering Polling Day.
Penalty for voting despite being subject to a quarantine order or stay-home order
The Act makes it clear that voting is not a reasonable excuse for a person under a quarantine order or stay-home order to leave the house. If they do so to vote, this will be in breach of their relevant order.
For leaving their house to vote, such a voter may be liable upon conviction of a first offence to a fine up to $10,000 or imprisonment of a term up to 6 months or both. If this is a repeat offence for the voter, he will be liable to a fine up to $20,000 or imprisonment of a term up to 12 months or both.
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Voting Outside of Electoral Division for Voters at Boarding Premises
Voters are usually entitled to vote at an election only in the electoral division he or she is registered under.
For voters who are quarantined or subject to a stay order at a boarding premises on voting day however, the Act makes special arrangements for them to place their vote.
Boarding premises include hotels, a serviced apartment, hostel, dormitory or other similar premises from which the voter is required under a stay order to not leave.
For these voters, a special polling station will be allotted to the voter and the voter is allowed to vote at only that specific voting station.
If there are 2 or more such voters in a particular boarding premises, a special polling station is likely to be established within the boarding premises for those voters.
If there is only a single voter at the boarding premises, setting up a special polling station for just that voter may affect the secrecy of the vote. This is because it would be quite obvious who placed the only voting slip in that special polling station’s ballot box.
In such a situation, the Act permits transport arrangements to be made to transport that single voter to a special polling station with more voters, to cast his or her vote.
The arrangements made to allow voters in different electoral divisions to place their votes at the special polling stations will be similar to those arrangements made for Singaporeans overseas to cast their votes.
In other words, the voters will mark their ballot papers in secret and deposit them into the ballot box. The ballot box will be sealed at the close of polls and transported under police escort to the counting centre.
Precautions to be Taken When Voting at Special Polling Stations
Voters at special polling stations are reminded to wear a mask over their nose and mouth at all times and to avoid being in close proximity with another individual.
However, just before the voter deposits the ballot paper in the ballot box, the voter will be required to remove his mask for the officer to verify the voter’s identity.
The election official will also ensure that the vote is cast in the correct constituency by calling out the constituency and polling district code where the voter is registered.
The Act seeks to provide alternative arrangements for certain voters to either be excused from voting or to vote at special polling stations if the election is held in the midst of the pandemic.
Apart from that, special arrangements are also made for aspiring election candidates who are under a quarantine order, on a stay-home notice, or hospitalised, to authorise a representative to assist in filing the required nomination papers.
All of us have the responsibility to comply with the Act in order to protect the public health during this pandemic.