SINGAPORE: Minister-in-charge of the Public Service Chan Chun Sing, has disclosed that according to preliminary findings by the Election Department Singapore (ELD), there was an initial 30% decrease in device connectivity during the first hour of polling on 1 September, during the Presidential Election. This connectivity issue subsequently dropped to 16% by 10:00 AM.
His statement came in response to a Parliamentary Query presented by Dr Tan Wu Meng, the Member of Parliament for Jurong, during the parliamentary session on Tuesday (19 Sept).
Dr Tan sought clarification on the extent of technical glitches experienced with the electronic registration system across polling stations during the recent PE 2023.
In his reply, Mr Chan emphasized that there was no concrete evidence suggesting a cyber attack as the cause.
Instead, this issue could have been partly attributed to a surge in transaction volumes during the morning peak period.
Approximately 52% of the total voters had already cast their votes within the first four hours of polling, compared to 32% during GE2020.
Increase of the number of polling stations
For PE 2023, ELD had made efforts to minimize queues and waiting times for voters.
The number of polling stations had increased by 15% to a total of 1,264, up from 1,097 in GE2020.
Consequently, the average number of voters assigned to each polling station was reduced from approximately 2,400 in GE 2020 to 2,150 in PE 2023.
Each polling station also had more e-registration devices than before, from between 2 to 4 devices each proportionate to the number of voters in the polling stations, with an additional spare device each for contingency.
For reference, a polling station with only two e-registration devices can process at least six voters per minute on average, which is a 50% higher throughput compared to their manual registration rate, which thus sold at an average of four voters per minute.
Minister Chan expressed his gratitude to the election officials who efficiently implemented contingency measures by resorting to hard copy registers, a process they had been trained for.
As a result, by 9:55 AM, ELD had reported that queues had improved at most stations.
“We would also like to thank voters who had queued longer during the morning peak hours during polling day for their patience and understanding.”
“The electronic registration system seeks to reduce waiting times and automate attendance taking for the benefit of our voters, ELD will continue to enhance the system so that the registration data are captured swiftly and accurately.”
Minister Chan’s assurances and insights on Electronic Registration System performance
In his supplementary question, Dr Tan raised three critical concerns: the electronic registration system’s reliability compared to paper, its resilience through stress testing, and ELD’s responsibility to enhance contractor specifications and tender requirements to avert future issues.
In response, Minister Chan assured that the ELD (Elections Department) would strive to enhance processes and address technical issues, welcoming feedback from the public and members of Parliament.
On reliability, he explained that ELD has specific reliability standards encompassing hardware, connectivity, and software. Stress testing was conducted to ensure system robustness.
Cyberattacks were ruled out, and hardware was functioning well. The main issue was identified as a software problem.
Concerning resilience, ELD stress-tested various scenarios, including high transaction volumes.
Minister Chan explained that during the morning of the PE 2023 polling day, a backlog of messages occurred due to an unexpected surge in search activity.
“When ELD technical officials realised this, which is 8:30 am when this thing happened, they quickly increased the memory and computing, processing power, and capacity and this helped us to quickly resolve the issue. ”
But once the backlog had set in, it took ELD about an hour plus to clear the backlog and return the clearance speed to normal.
Even if all electronic systems failed, manual processes were in place to clear queues, and electronic supplements accelerated voter clearance, allowing ELD to efficiently manage the situation.
Mr Chan added that the availability of electronic supplements significantly accelerated the clearance process, which is why, during this particular PE, despite 52% of voters casting their ballots within the first four hours of polling, ELD managed to clear the queues and process 52% of the voters within that same timeframe.
Sengkang MP He Ting Ru queries about election verification methods
Sengkang MP He Ting Ru raised a question about why a tally of the number of NRC scans and the number of votes cast was not conducted as an initial check after the last general election.
In response, Minister Chan clarified that due to the significantly lower number of non-voters in GE2020 compared to the previous two general elections, ELD did not suspect an unusual number of voters had gone unregistered.
“Checking the registration figures at the end of polling day may also not be instructive, and this is because the process to ensure voting secrecy means that we will not be able to identify individual voters, including those who have not been registered accurately and would therefore be listed as non-voters in due course.”
Furthermore, every voter receives only one ballot paper and the ballot boxes which contain all the casted ballot papers are always in the custody of the election officials, properly sealed with polling and counting agents able to witness this process and secure while in transit.
He added that before PE 2023, ELD publicised that the revised register was available for inspection from 15 June 2023 and that the certified registers, which contain updated information from the inspection period, were available for inspection from 21 July 2023.
These exercises were carried out to enable Singaporeans to check their details and restore their names to the registers ahead of the election.
From October 2020 to the Day of the Writ for PE 2023 in August this year, some 32,000 voters checked and restored their names, he said.
“Similar to previous exercises, there were very few who requested E LD to restore their names due to inaccuracy in the recording of their voting status in GE2020.”
“As such, ELD did not suspect that there were significant inaccuracies in the recording.”
Ms He inquires about NRIC scans and votes discrepancy in GE 2020
Ms He posed a question regarding whether ELD possessed data comparing the number of NRICs scanned during the 2020 General Election to the eventual count of recorded votes.
“That would actually give us a first instance indication of whether there’s any discrepancy beyond the 1,093 voters that have contacted ELD to say that they voted but their names were erroneously removed from the registers,” she said.
Mr. Chan explained that at the conclusion of each Polling Day, both electronic and manual records are maintained, especially when electronic systems encounter glitches.
“We won’t immediately have the numbers because there is an electronic data set, which we also have to reconcile with a manual set,” he added.
“Even if we can reconcile it immediately, it will not be able to tell us who are the non-voters accurately.”
MP questions register updates in the context of compulsory voting
In a supplementary query, Liang Eng Hwa, Member of Parliament for Bukit Panjang GRC, inquired about the reason ELD did not automatically update the registers following each election, considering Singapore’s compulsory voting system.
“Precisely because voting is compulsory, the Election Act requires that the names of the non-voters be expunged from the registers if they do not vote,” said Mr Chan.
Singaporeans who do not vote must pay a S$50 penalty to have their names reinstated, unless they provide a valid reason for their absence, such as being overseas on Polling Day.
“In other words, the penalty for not voting and the process of expunging the names of non-voters gives effect to the notion of compulsory voting,” said Mr Chan. “Starting on a clean slate with no penalty will undermine this.”
Minister Chan highlights upcoming initiatives for voter verification
Mr Chan also emphasized that voters were not required to wait for this specific period; they could verify their status in the registers at any time throughout the year.
This could be done through voter services on the ELD website, accessible at over 100 community centers or clubs, or by contacting ELD directly via phone.
Looking ahead, in addition to issuing a public call for voters to check their status when the Non-Voter list is published for verification, Minister Chan announced that ELD would implement an additional measure.
The department will individually inform Singaporeans on the non-voters list via mail and through SG Notified in SingPass. This will enable citizens to verify their status and, if necessary, take steps to restore their names to the registers.
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