Safety measures at GE2020 and 25 large polling stations which were not better resourced among factors which caused long queues: ELD

SINGAPORE – The precautionary measures put in place to protect voters during the Covid-19 outbreak had reduced voting efficiency and led to long queues at some polling stations, the Elections Department (ELD) said on Thursday (Sept 10).

For instance, allocated time bands given to voters in the July 10 election did not succeed in spreading out voter turnout throughout the day.

The ELD set out in a statement the findings of its review into the reasons behind unusually long queues seen at polling stations on Polling Day.

Following the election, the department apologised for the inconvenience caused to voters and pledged to study the matter.

Here are the factors that it said contributed to the long queues.

Voter turnout not evenly spread out

Even though time bands in the morning were allocated to senior voters, a third of the voters who showed up at polling stations around Singapore then were not seniors, the ELD said.

The higher concentration of senior voters in the morning also slowed down voter flow-through rate, as more of them required support and assistance from election officers.

Other stations with significantly higher proportions of younger voters also saw long queues in the afternoon due to the large number of voters and the smaller seven-hour voting window, the ELD added. This excludes the morning window reserved for seniors and the special voting hour from 7pm to 8pm reserved for Singaporeans serving their stay-home notice.

Safe management measures

The ELD had implemented various safe management measures to ensure voters could vote safely, such as temperature taking, requiring voters to put on disposable gloves and hand sanitising.

These measures took up additional time, it said.

The requirement that voters stand 1m apart also contributed to the long queues, the ELD added.

“To reduce the waiting time, ELD did away with the requirement to don disposable gloves in the early part of the morning of Polling Day, as voters would have already sanitised their hands. With this, the queue situation at most polling stations improved significantly by 11am.

“Nevertheless, the other necessary precautionary measures (temperature taking, hand sanitisation and ensuring safe distancing among voters) meant that voters, in general, spent a longer time to queue and vote, as compared with past elections.”

Resources at large polling stations could have been better distributed

There were 1,097 polling stations in this year’s general election, up from 832 in 2015, and there were an average of 2,400 voters for each station. About 36,000 election officers were deployed across the stations, a 20 per cent increase from 2015.

The ELD said that 25 polling stations, or about 2.3 per cent of all stations, served more than 4,400 voters, and 22 of the 25 experienced long queues.

The previous general election also saw a number of polling stations serving larger numbers of voters, the ELD noted, adding that size alone is not a factor for the long queues.

“Size combined with the precautionary measures must have aggravated the situation,” the ELD said.

“Some premises also had two polling stations, and the two queues merged into one some distance away from the polling area, further lengthening the queues.”

The department said the 25 large polling stations should have been given more election officers or e-registration devices.

Issues with e-registration devices

The ELD said the original plan, before Covid-19 struck, was for election officers to scan voters’ NRICs.

“However, with the Covid-19 situation, voters were asked to self-scan their NRICs. ELD had intended to do roadshows to familiarise voters with the e-registration device, but these had to be called off due to the Covid-19 situation.

“As a result, voters were unfamiliar with the e-registration devices, and this process took longer than planned.”

Future improvements

For future elections, the ELD said it would take several steps to prevent a repeat of the long queues at GE2020.

It will increase its pool of reserve manpower and equipment, including providing more e-registration devices.

It will also reduce the number of voters at large polling stations, and review the need for time bands.

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