Overseas Singaporeans call for Government to explore alternatives to increase their voting accessibility

Holding an election in the middle of a global pandemic has emphasized a great need for the Government to explore alternative options in facilitating the ease of voting for Singaporeans who are living abroad, prompting some citizens to issue an open letter to the Government with regards to the voting issues.

The letter – which dated 15 July – aimed to garner a total of 10,000 signatures from both in and out of the country Singaporeans by 31 July.

According to the letter, overseas Singaporeans found themselves “sidelined” during the recent General Election (GE) as the COVID-19 pandemic had curtailed their ability to travel and prevented them from accessing designated polling stations.

Hence, many are calling for the Government to urgently examine “all viable means of increasing voting accessibility for overseas Singaporeans, including but not limited to absentee ballot/ by-mail-in voting, electronic voting, proxy voting, early and in-person absentee voting, as well as designating polling stations in all Singapore embassies and consulates”.

Meanwhile, voting issues among Singaporeans residing in other countries had been brought up a few weeks ahead of GE2020.

On 25 June, a handful of overseas Singaporeans had submitted a letter to the Elections Department (ELD) urging the authority to “examine alternatives” that will allow them to vote in the GE as some of them are not staying in the big cities, and travelling to vote is an “irresponsible option” as they claimed it will not only put their health at risk but also other people.

The 10 overseas polling stations are located in New York, Washington DC, San Francisco, London, Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Canberra, and Dubai, as stated on ELD’s website.

However, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong – who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force for the COVID-19 – said on 25 June that there is no reason why Singaporeans from other countries cannot return to their homeland to vote for the GE on 10 July.

“I mean, so whether it’s in Malaysia, whether you’re in any other country, if you would like to vote, and you want to vote, then come back and vote,” said Mr Wong, in response to a reporter’s question on how Singaporeans residing in Malaysia can vote as there is no polling station in Malaysia.

Although he noted there would be separate arrangements in place for returning Singaporeans to vote and on Stay-Home Notice (SHN), other issues might arise such as isolation policies imposed by the countries where they resided.

This means that on top of the two-week SHN period in Singapore, they could also face a further two-week quarantine procedure when they go back to their country of residence. For the majority of people, missing four weeks of their regular routine is just not a realistic possibility.

Singaporeans living in the Asia Pacific region, especially the ones working in neighbouring countries such as in Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand, felt deterred to vote due to the quarantine period – in both Singapore and the countries they reside in – and the infection risk.

As for some Singaporeans living in Europe and the Scandinavian countries, the high rates of COVID-19 infections in Britain and America had induced implications for them to cast their votes.

“We are variously facing travel bans, closed borders, 28-day self-funded quarantines, erratic flight schedules, and the risk of having to enter places with high infection rates like New York and London. Jobs, education and family are to be sidelined for unrealistic periods to perform this duty,” said Daniel Yap who lives in Finland.

While one overseas voter claimed she was unable to log into the service on ELD’s website using Singpass as the password was invalid after a period of disuse.

“There is an option to request for a new password which will then be sent to my mailing address in Singapore in five working days. That would have been too late to register as an overseas voter,” said Rachel who resides in Australia.

Following the voting issues, some overseas Singaporeans suggested the Government to set up more polling stations, which would enable online voting and provide more options for Singaporeans to register as overseas voters.

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