Dr Tan Cheng Bock asks Singaporeans to play their part to ensure fair election by volunteering to be counting and polling agents

Former presidential candidate and Progress Singapore Party (PSP) secretary-general Dr Tan Cheng Bock took to his Facebook on Wednesday (23 October) to encourage Singaporeans to sign up as Polling and Counting Agents for the party at the next general elections.

“The right to vote is important. You can play a crucial role in ensuring that the electoral process is properly conducted. Be a volunteer and experience the voting and counting process at Polling and Counting centres,” he wrote.

Dr Tan also pointed out that volunteers don’t have to be member of any political party in order to be qualified to be a volunteers.

“I would like to warmly invite you to consider volunteering for this. This is an important responsibility that we all should have,” said the veteran politician.

Anyone who’s interested to be a volunteer for PSP can sign up for it by clicking this link.

Dr Tan was sharing a post from PSP’s Facebook page which stated that both the Polling and Counting Agents should have “willing hearts and sharp eyes” for the positions as they play a crucial role in the electoral process.

For those who are not aware, each candidate or their election agents will appoint Polling Agents for a polling station to observe that the poll is carried out in accordance to the law on Election Day. The number of Polling Agents should not exceed the maximum allowed in each station.

Since the polling hours can be long, there will generally be two shifts of polling agents at each polling station. As Polling Agents, they should not delay or disrupt the polling process and must not prevent the conduct of elections based on the law.

On the other hand, Counting Agents (one per candidate per counting place) must make sure that the vote-counting process is carried out fairly and that all votes are properly accounted for at the end of Election Day.

In the 2015 General Election, the Elections Department set up about 832 polling centres and 163 counting centres throughout Singapore.

Alex Au Waipang, blogger and an activist for the LGBT community in Singapore, shared his experience of being a Counting Agent for the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) in his blog Yawning Bread during the 2011 Singaporean General Election.

He said that as a Counting Agent, his first job once the ballot boxes were shown to him and the PAP agent, was to ensure that “the seals which had been affixed at the polling stations at the close of the voting day were not broken”.

Once the boxes were opened and the contents were placed at the centre of the counting table, he was allowed to freely “move around to look over the shoulders of the counting staff”. However, he was not allowed to talk to the counting staff, and if he wanted to dispute the sorting of any ballot, he had to inform the table chief.

“Most of the time, the voter’s choice was obvious. Where the ballot paper had unusual markings, the counter would pass it to the table chief who would show it to a counting agent from each party and announce his decision as to how to treat that ballot. As counting agents, we could offer our views but his decision would be final,” he said.

He also stated that the table chiefs at his counting centre would reject “ballots where any part of the cross or tick crossed the boundary line” and if there’s more than one marking made on the ballot. However, when he spoke to his friend at a different counting centre, he was told that the table chief accepted a ballot with more than one markings. “The table chief’s reasoning was that by law, the voter should mark his intention with a cross and since the cross was placed against the “triangle and star” party, the vote was given to it,” Mr Au wrote.

The blogger also pointed out that SDP initially had shortage of volunteers who signed up to be agents, but thankfully they managed to increase the number towards the end.

TOC understands that most political parties other than the PAP, could not find enough Polling and Counting Agents to field the polling and counting centres in previous elections. Many who turned up to help opposition parties were inexperienced but also had to take double shifts.