Protecting the integrity and transparency of our electoral voting system

Mr Tan Cheng Bock, former Member of Parliament and candidate in the Presidential Elections 2011 has commented that the discovery of the new boxes has pointed out a weakness in the process and procedure of the electoral system and said that he is puzzled over the advisories issued to the two 17-year old students who found 5 empty ballot boxes in a school. (Facebook note of Mr Tan)

The empty election ballot boxes were found in a school in the Bishan-Toa Payoh division in August last year. One of the students sent a few photos of the boxes to Temasek Review Emeritus (TRE) upon discovering them. He mentioned that he found five boxes in a school storeroom and took a picture with the newspaper on it to prove that the boxes were still around during that period of time (in 2013).

The Elections Department lodged a police report after receiving information about the discovery of the empty boxes.

According to the Police, the ballot boxes were “used and discarded boxes meant to be disposed of” by the Election Department’s waste collectors, except that they did not collect them after the elections.

“There was no evidence that relates to the tampering of ballot boxes before and while in use, and hence no breach of integrity of the electoral process,” said a police spokesman to a local news source.

The students who discovered the boxes were given the warning and counselled by the Police earlier this week. It is unknown if the contractor is being penalized for not completing the disposal work.

Below is the full posting of Mr Tan’s facebook note.

When I read in the papers on the police report that two 17-year-old students were issued advisories and counseled for the ‘unauthorised removal’ of 5 empty ballot boxes found in the storeroom of a school 10 months ago, I was puzzled.

In August 2013, the Elections Department made a police report on the discovery of the five ballot boxes. I commented on the matter in my facebook post of 17 Sep 2013  and I wrote to the Elections Department on 27 Sep 2013 and they replied via their letter on 11 Oct 2013.

I was not satisfied with Elections Department’s reply but decided that I should wait for the police report to be out before I comment further. Now, after 10months of investigations, we are merely told that 2 teenage students were cautioned with police advisories for this offence.

Had it not been for their discovery of the used ballot boxes, Singaporeans would never know of the existence of the new boxes introduced at the counting centres to contain the counted ballot slips.

The ballot boxes in question were among those used in PE 2011 in which I contested.They were left in there for more than 2 years after PE. Singaporeans were told by Minister Chan Chun Sing that the boxes were ‘not controlled’ items after the voting slips had been removed from them.

In fact, he informed us that the used ballot boxes were supposed to be taken away by a contractor for disposal. If the boxes were really of no importance, then it begs the question: why issue advisories to two teenagers who pick up something of no importance? Clearly, the boxes must be of some importance and value to warrant the police issuing the advisories.

The discovery of these ballot boxes have actually highlighted a possible flaw in the process and procedures of the Electoral Voting System. Therefore we should thank the 2 students instead.

Let me explain further.

Click to enlarge

Ballot boxes are specially designed boxes into which voters dropped their ballot slips at the polling stations. After polling is over, these ballot boxes are sealed and transported to the counting centres. The seals on the ballot boxes are then cut open and the ballot slips poured onto a big table for counting. The emptied ballot boxes are put aside and these were the type found in the school store room by the two teenagers.

Discovery of the boxes actually reveal that there were new boxes introduced at the counting centre. These new boxes were not inspected as the candidates and counting agents were not aware of the existence of these new boxes at the counting centres.

Introduction of these new boxes without the candidate and counting agent’s knowledge, create doubts that these boxes may not be empty in the first place.

Is this procedure right? Why the need to bring in these new boxes? Why the need to change?

Let’s look at the PE Act. ‘Ballot boxes’ as defined in Sect 24 of the PE Act clearly refers to boxes that are used for the casting of ballot papers. They are boxes for which the presiding officer at a polling station must carryout specified actions in the presence of witnesses of the candidates at the polling station to ensure that there is no tampering of the ballot boxes before polling starts and after polling ends.

Clearly, based on this definition in the PE Act, the new boxes are not ballot boxes because they were not used to put in the ballot slips at the polling stations.  They are just boxes brought in to contain the counted votes. Why can’t they use back the same controlled ballot boxes? Why the need to change boxes?

This is not an issue of security of the votes and voting secrecy.

This discovery of the new boxes has pointed out a weakness in the process and procedure of our electoral system. Let us correct this, leave no doubt in the minds of the electorate, and move on. We must always protect the transparency and integrity of our electoral system. It is a fundamental pillar of our democratic society.