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Voting hours extended for the first time amid long queues
FOR the first time in Singapore's election history, voting hours were extended on Friday as some polling stations struggled with long lines of voters late into the evening.
The polls - held amid the Covid-19 pandemic - were originally slated to close at 8pm, with 7pm to 8pm set aside as a Special Voting Hour (SVH) for voters who are serving a Stay-Home Notice, on medical certificate for acute respiratory infection, or having a fever (37.5 degree Celsius and above).
But at around 7pm, the Elections Department (ELD) announced that polling stations would remain open until 10pm, to allow enough time for all voters to cast their votes.
"While the queue situation across most polling stations has improved, a small number continue to see long queues," the ELD said in a statement. "ELD seeks the understanding and cooperation of all voters, as we seek to clear the long queues at a small number of stations, while ensuring safe voting for all voters."
The ELD did not say how many of the 1,100 polling stations were affected. An extra 220 polling stations had been added this year to reduce potential crowding.
As night fell, a long line of voters was seen waiting to enter Palm View Primary School , one of the polling stations for Sengkang GRC.
Voters were advised to check on the queue situation before heading to their assigned stations. However, the maximum number of people that the ELD's queue status website could reflect was "more than 60". This limitation was explained to some voters when they called to complain after being met with queues far longer than they had expected upon arriving at their polling stations.
While the ELD said that the Returning Officer had exercised his powers under section 39(3) of the Parliamentary Elections Act to extend voting hours, political parties and observers questioned the legality of the move.
The Progress Singapore Party (PSP) said: "On plain reading, this section (of the Act) does not give the Returning Officer any power to extend the polling hours... So presently we take the view that the Returning Officer has no power to extend polling hours, especially on the day itself... at virtually the last hour."
The late extension of voting hours "is a direct result of bad planning and the incessant urge to rush an election during the Covid-19 period", the PSP added. "This underscores the disregard for public health as well as our democratic processes."
The Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) called on the ELD to rescind its decision. "Some of our polling agents have to leave as they understood that polling will end at 8pm," the party said. "This will leave some of our polling stations unattended when the boxes are sealed and may render the results questionable."
Desmond Lim, chairman of the Singapore Democratic Alliance, had similar concerns: "The ballot boxes were left without the presence and supervision of our polling agents during this extended time, and we demand for a proper justification for this action."
Peoples Voice party chief Lim Tean said that his own tour of the polling stations showed that by 4pm, "there was only a trickle of voters going to the polling stations to vote".
He said: "Peoples Voice reserves the right to challenge the extension and any electoral results arising from this irregular and unlawful extension."
The National Solidarity Party said: "We have already objected to holding the election during this pandemic as the reasons are clear to everyone. And now with this delay, it places further undue stress and burden on our people especially with the last minute announcement."
As at 8pm, 2,565,000 voters or 96 per cent of registered voters had cast their votes at local polling stations in Singapore. This turnout was higher than the turnout during the 2015 General Election, which had 2,304,331 votes cast (93.56 per cent of registered voters) at the close of poll.
As for SVH voters, those who had been assigned to polling stations with long queues were asked to identify themselves. To prevent mixing with other voters, they were isolated in a separate holding area until the queue had cleared.
Earlier on Friday, the ELD apologised to voters for the longer than usual queues that they had experienced in the morning.
"More voters had turned up this morning than expected outside their assigned voting time-bands. This, together with measures that had been put in place to ensure safe voting, had led to long queues," the ELD said.
To address the long wait, the ELD did away with the requirement for voters to don disposable gloves before casting their ballots, as voters would already have been required to sanitise their hands.