Singapore General Elections: Voting Criteria and Election Procedure

Last updated on June 26, 2019

person placing vote in ballot box.

If you are unclear about the stages involved in the Singapore general elections and want to find out about your role as a voter, this article aims to clarify the details of the general elections for you.

What are the General Elections?

The general elections refer to the election of new Members of Parliament (MPs), based on the votes cast by eligible voters. These newly-elected MPs will assume office in respective Town Councils.

The MPs will act as a bridge between the residents of their constituency and the government, ensuring that the community’s concerns are addressed in Parliament

The Parliament of Singapore is established by the Constitution and its functions involve making laws, critiquing and investigating the Government’s policies and actions, and examining the State’s finances.

General elections must take place within 3 months of the dissolution of the Parliament. Such dissolution may occur at any time before the Parliament’s 5-year term expires, by the President upon the advice of the Prime Minister (PM)

Once the Parliament has been dissolved, the President will issue a writ of election to the Returning Officer  – the official in-charge of overseeing the election process – to direct him to hold a general election. The writ specifies the date and venue(s) of Nomination Day (see below). 

Who Can Vote in General Elections? 

To be able to cast a vote during the general elections, you must have your name on the Register of Electors for the voting year. You will only be eligible to have your name listed in the Register of Electors if you are: 

  • A citizen of Singapore;
  • Aged 21 and above; and
  • Ordinarily resident in Singapore.

You are considered ordinarily resident in Singapore if you have resided in Singapore for a total of 30 days over the 3 years preceding the voting date at an address in the electoral division. This is even if you are not residing in Singapore on the voting date. 

What are electoral divisions? 

Electoral divisions or constituencies are areas within Singapore which have been delineated.

Single Member Constituencies (SMCs) are electoral divisions that have a single MP whereas Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs) are comparatively bigger electoral divisions, by both area and population, and have 3 to 6 MPs.

At least 1 MP in a GRC must be from a minority racial group such as the Malay or Indian communities, or other minority communities. GRCs and SMCs are also further divided into polling districts for elections. 

During the general elections, voters vote for their preferred candidate(s) to be the new MP(s) of the electoral division they reside in. These elected MPs become members of the electoral division’s Town Council (as mentioned above). 

What if you’re residing overseas during the voting period? 

If you are a Singaporean Citizen who is residing overseas and qualify for the Register of Electors, you must first apply to the Singapore Elections Department to be registered as an overseas elector.

Once registered, you can cast your vote at the overseas polling station allotted to you – either an embassy, a High Commission, diplomatic mission, permanent mission or consulate of Singapore – on Polling Day. 

What happens if you do not vote despite being eligible to do so? 

Voting in Singapore is compulsory for all Singapore citizens, who are in the Register of Electors, as voting is recognised as a civic responsibility along with being a fundamental right of citizenship.

If you fail to vote on Polling Day despite being a qualified elector, your name will be removed from the Register of Electors and you will no longer be able to vote in subsequent elections.

If you wish to be able to vote again, it is possible for you to get yourself reinstated to the Register of Electors. This is done by submitting an application to the Registrar’s Office with an explanation for why you were unable to vote.

You may submit your application either online, or over-the-counter at a Community Centre or at the Elections Department. Reasons deemed acceptable for failing to vote include: 

  • Working overseas or being on a business trip on Polling Day; 
  • Studying overseas at the time of the poll; 
  • Living with their spouse who is working or studying overseas; 
  • Overseas vacation; and
  • Illness, or delivering a baby.

A $50 fee will be imposed if your reason for not voting is invalid or insufficient. The application must also be submitted before the writ of election is issued in order for you to be eligible to vote in the upcoming election.

Nomination Day 

As mentioned above, the writ of election states the date and venue(s) for Nomination Day.

On this day, election hopefuls will present their nomination papers and relevant certificates to the Returning Officer between 11am and 12pm to indicate their interest to be nominated as MP of their chosen electoral division.  

If only 1 candidate for an SMC or only 1 group of candidates for a GRC is/are nominated, the Returning Officer will declare them elected.

However, if more than one candidate or group of candidates is nominated in an electoral division, The Returning Officer will issue a notice of contested election stating the:

  • Date and time of polling for the contested electoral division;
  • Names of candidates, their symbols, proposers and seconders; and
  • Names and locations of all polling stations.

Candidates are allowed to campaign from the moment the notice of contested election is issued up to the start of the eve of Polling Day (otherwise known as Cooling-Off Day)

Know your SMC/GRC

Before Polling Day, you should be familiar with the candidates representing your electoral division so that you can make an informed choice when voting.

To find out which SMC or GRC you belong to and its current MPs, simply enter your residential address in the “Find My MP” portal on the Parliament of Singapore website.

Polling Day 

Polling Day is declared a public holiday during the general elections. Between 8am and 8pm, registered voters of contested constituencies go to their allotted polling stations, as stated in the poll card mailed to them prior to Polling Day, to cast their vote.

Upon arrival at the polling station, each voter is given a ballot paper on which they indicate their choice of vote. They then fold the paper and insert it into the ballot box before exiting the polling station

Due to varying time zones, polling for overseas voters may commence earlier than 8am in some countries. Overseas polling stations will be open for at least 4 hours, but will be concluded before the poll closes at 8pm in Singapore on Polling Day. 

All authorised polling stations officials, ranging from officers to candidates and authorised election agents, must take an oath to maintain voting secrecy at polling stations.

Failure to ensure confidentiality is considered a criminal offence and those convicted will be liable to a fine of up to $1,500 and/or imprisoned for up to 9 months. 

Post-Voting 

When the voting period ends at 8pm, ballot boxes are sealed and transported to counting centres for the Returning Officer to count the votes in the presence of the candidates.

Ballot boxes of an overseas poll must arrive in Singapore within 10 days from Polling Day, or up to a maximum of 17 days in the case of delays.  

If after counting the local votes, the Returning Officer finds that the overseas votes will have no impact on the outcome of the election, he/she will declare the candidate or group of candidates with the highest number of votes as elected for that SMC or GRC.

Candidates may ask for a recount of votes if the margin of difference between votes is 2% or less.

The election results and a poll statement are published in the Gazette by the Returning Officer immediately after declaring the results. The newly elected MPs then assume office in their respective Town Councils.

What happens after all the votes have been counted?

For 6 months after the end of the general elections, ballot papers and relevant documents are kept in safe custody and subsequently destroyed to ensure the secrecy of the vote.

Confidentiality is of utmost importance during the general elections voting process.