My 6 hour tour of duty as a polling agent

Note that I have signed a Secrecy Declaration that would require me to not mention who were at the polling station and anything about who voted for whom. The latter one is near impossible to know anyway, but it is part of the secrecy anyway.

But I think I can talk about my experience as a polling agent.  This is the first time I’ve ever had the opportunity and it was largely thanks to a some colleagues of mine (whom I would like to acknowledge, but since I’ve not asked for their permission, I shall refrain).

I signed up to help out the Singapore People’s Party – Chaim See Tong’s party – to be their polling agent at one of Bishan Toa Payoh GRC’s polling centers. I just placed my name on one that had an open slot and it happened to be Pierce Secondary School.

I arrived at the school at 7:30 am, parked outside and met with polling agents from SPP. We proceeded into the school, and we were met by some smiley police officers and when we showed them the secrecy document we had to sign off, they proceeded to let us in. Waited a bit more until about 7:45 am when the elections department staff (actually, they are folks from other parts of the civil service, such as teachers, statutory board employees, specially mobilsed  for the elections).

The way voting is done in a Polling Station is as follows:

a) Each Polling Station would have multiple Polling Places.

b) Each Polling Place is identified with something like A, B etc.  I don’t think there are more than that. A Polling Place is a space within the Polling Center that is distinct and, potentially, separate from another Polling Place in the same Polling Center. So, if the Polling Center is a school. Polling Place A could be in the school hall, Polling Place B could be in the school canteen etc.  In the case of Pierce, both were in the school canteen and next to each other.

c) Within each Polling Place, there would be polling areas labelled as A1, A2, A3 etc. So, each voter will be assigned a Polling Place and that’s where you have to queue up to vote.

d) In the case of Pierce, I was the SPP representative and chose to sit at the Polling Place A2.  My “polling agent” table was shared with a PAP representative all dressed as a MIW. We both sat across two Elections Department (ED) officials.

e) As voters come up, one ED official will check the previously mailed out Polling Card against the voters list for that Polling Place. They will counter check with the NRIC as well.

f) Once it is verified, the name is crossed out on the polling register and the ED official hands over the polling card and ID to the her partner who will then issue a ballot.

g) As the 2nd ED official tears out the ballot, he will read out the name and serial number of the voter (which is what is on the previously mailed out Polling Card). The reason for this is so that the polling agent (like myself), will be able to check a copy of the voters list that was provided to the SPP. What I did was to place a tick against the name/serial number. The rationale for calling out the name and serial number is to ensure that there are no attempts to vote twice or more by one person.

h) The voter then takes the ballot, goes to the polling booth, places the choice of candidate by putting a cross (or any mark except vulgarity) to show choice.

i) Once done, the ballot is folded into half, and placed into the ballot box. And the voter leaves.

About the ballot box

The ballot box is made out of cardboard and when I arrived at my polling agent station, the box was fully open and unsealed. I could check that the box was empty and once I (and the other polling agent) indicated that we are OK, the ED officials close-up the box, and applies specially marked Elections Department masking tape and a sealing sticker. After that, the box is ready to accept ballots. The ballot box has two slots on the top to accept votes. Each ballot box has a sticker on the side to indicate which polling place it belongs to/comes from.

So, that was what happened this morning. I ended my shift at 2:30 pm or so and handed all the “secret” documents to the SPP representative at the polling station.

What happens at the close of election, ie at 8:00 pm, is that the ED officials will seal off the voting slots, and have the polling agents sign off on the box (if they want to) and then the ED officials will transport the boxes to the counting centers.

I did not get to witness that part – the sealing and transportation though I am sure there are witnesses to it.

So, all in, it was an interesting 6-plus hours of contributing to the dawn of a new democracy in Singapore.

And finally, I think it is probably OK to mention that when one of the voters arrived at my polling place, she seemed to be rather agitated mumbling something to the EDs across from me.  All I heard was “I am so angry” or something close to that. She was given her ballot and instead of going to the booth to make her choice, she chose to walk to the ballot box directly and tear up her ballot and stuffed the torn ballot into the box! Sigh. There is nothing that you can be so angry about that can justify tearing up your ballot! Yes, it is all within your basic human right to spoil your vote, but actually taking that path is sad. Really sad.

So, we now await the results. I expect tonight to be long and nail-biting.

Majulah Singapura!


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