by Teo Soh Lung
For this Presidential Election (1 September 2023), I decided to volunteer as a polling agent for civil society at one of the 31 nursing homes.
It was the first time that special polling stations were set up by the Elections Department (ELD). Each of these homes has not less than 50 voters.
I reported at a nursing home with less than 100 voters before 8 am to witness the sealing of the ballot boxes.
The Home and the ELD have organised the voting efficiently oand voting went smoothly and on time.
At just past 8 am, the first voter was wheeled into the room set up as a polling station. The polling agents were even supplied with a register of residents who were eligible to vote.
That morning, I was the only polling agent (ELD only allowed one for each candidate at each nursing home).
The nursing staff had organised two shifts for voting – one in the morning and the other in the afternoon, thus giving ample time for residents to rest and have their meals.
The ELD officers were polite, helpful and fair. They tried their best to explain the voting process to the elderly voters, many of whom did not speak English, were hard of hearing and I suspect did not know it was a presidential election.
Besides a big room which was converted into a polling station, voting was also carried out in the wards where voters were mainly bedridden.
The ballot box was placed on a trolley and pushed to the beds of the voters. There was a team of ELD officers and nursing staff to assist when patients were hard of hearing or unable to understand the process.
Most of the voters entered the room in wheelchairs pushed by ELD officers.
Those who were able to identify themselves were given folded voting slips and wheeled to the polling booths.
Many really didn’t know what they had to do. Some simply stared at the booth and did not open the voting slip until helped by the officers.
Officers tried their best to assist, explaining that they had three choices and read out all the names of the candidates. (Actually, there were 4 choices, the last being invalid votes).
The voters were told to place the X stamp on the one they chose. I suspect most residents didn’t know who they were voting for.
Quite a few didn’t know how to use the stamps. They were senior members who had always voted with pens in the past.
So I suggested to the Returning Officer to give them the choice of pens. She swiftly placed pens at the booths.
I was notified about those who could not respond to officers. They suggested blank votes to be cast. I agreed. So blank votes were dropped into the ballot box.
VOTING IN WARDS
After more than 25 had voted, I went to the wards to observe voting there.
The condition of voters was worse in the wards. They were bedridden. The beds were moved to sitting positions for the voters.
After identification, a makeshift cardboard voting box with one side levelled to act as a table was placed on their laps.
Officers explained where they should place the stamp. They then stood aside to let them vote.
Those who didn’t know how to vote were assisted. Blank votes were dropped into the ballot box which was placed on a trolley for those who didn’t understand what it was all about.
Some were asked if they wanted to vote. If they replied “no”, they simply did not vote. Some were in near coma state and were naturally unable to vote.
As voting hours were from 8 am to 8 pm, ELD officers had to remain at the nursing home even though I suspect, they would have cleared the less than 100 voters by the afternoon. I left after the morning voting session.
According to The Straits Times of 26 August 2023, 31 nursing homes with more than 50 voters each were selected for this pilot voting project. A total of 4,087 residents were eligible to vote.
How many actually voted, I don’t know. From my observation of one nursing home and for just the morning when over 50 voters had cast their votes, I think voting should not be compulsory for the elderly.
I think it is best to leave it to the patients’ families. Let them take them to the polling station. The ELD can assist with the provision of special transport.
There were 1279 polling stations all over our little island for the Presidential Election.
If the government is keen to ensure that every person who is eligible to vote should be given the opportunity and assistance to vote, I think it is best to omit people who are ill.
Patients in nursing homes need care and staff are always very busy. I doubt if presidential or general elections are in the minds of patients. They have enough trouble. The patients in the home I observed are largely suffering from dementia. Why would they want to bother about who becomes the next president?
Instead of giving patients in nursing homes the ease to vote, I suggest that voting rights be restored to prisoners. I believe most prisoners are able-bodied and of sound mind.
I am told there are about 10000 prisoners with more in the Drugs Rehabilitation Centres.
I am not sure how many are Singaporeans. Let them exercise their rights as citizens. They have experienced many societal problems and have experienced our criminal justice system first-hand. It would be much easier to conduct voting in the prisons and rehabilitation centres than in our nursing homes.
Finally, voting hours were from 8 am to 8 pm. Think of the ELD officers who had to stay in the nursing homes for 12 hours or more when there were less than 100 voters to attend to. I really think that it is easier to take the patients to any of the 1279 polling stations rather than to take the polling stations to the nursing homes.
This opinion was first published at Function 8’s Facebook page. Ms Teo is a lawyer and an activist in Singapore. She is also a former politician who contested in Singapore’s General Election 2011.