17 May 2006

Voting must be seen to be secret

Excellent Article by MSM

Voting must be seen to be secret
By Siew Kum Hong, TODAY
First Published 15 May 2006

SINGAPORE: Your polling card states which voting lane you must use. The serial number of the ballot slip issued to you is recorded against your name. "They" can trace you, and "they" will blacklist or even "get" you, if you vote for the Opposition.

This is the urban legend that never dies, is raised and dismissed every election. It surfaced before and during the recent campaign, and continues to be talked about even days after Polling Day. It has a longevity surpassing the campaign and the issues raised.

Yes, credit must be given where it is due. I have voted twice, and voting was a breeze on both occasions: Fast, simple and efficient, a bit of an anti-climax even. That is no mean feat, and the Elections Department deserves fulsome praise for it.

But people do fear that voting is not secret, and it is not limited to the uneducated, the paranoid or virgin voters.

On Polling Day, a civil servant in her mid-30s told me how proud she was of herself, and how adult she felt - because she had finally overcame her fears and voted according to her conscience, something she had not been able to do in past elections.

It is worrisome when even professionals and repeat voters are afraid. It would be a mistake to simply dismiss these fears as being irrational and unjustified, without taking concrete steps to address them.

The main grouses surround the serialised ballot slips, the recording of serial numbers, and the allocated voting lanes.

The Elections Department has stated that the reasons are to deter ballot stuffing, prevent voter impersonation, and make voting smoother ("Why your vote is secret", May 10). But have they accomplished those objectives?

The serialisation of ballot slips neither prevents nor deters ballot stuffing. It only makes obvious any attempt to do so.

But even without this, any discrepancy between the number of voters and ballots would still be obvious - given how strictly the identities of voters are tracked. In any case, the only way to prevent ballot stuffing is to ensure the presence and vigilance of election officers and candidates' agents at all points of the process - which is already done.

The recording of serial numbers is to prevent impersonation. But a voter must produce both his identity card (IC) and polling card before voting. This is known as the two-factor authentication, whereby there are two criteria to be fulfilled before a person's identity is authenticated. It is more secure than the single-factor authentication used for online governmental transactions (SingPass) and Internet banking (password).

If a person loses or misplaces his IC, the polling card would have been sent to his address and would not have been lost. If a person changes his address, whoever received the polling card would not have the IC. Only persons close to someone would have access to both his IC and polling card - a situation that is hardly conducive to electoral fraud.

And if a person's identity is impersonated, then the problem lies in a failure by the voting officer to match the photograph in the IC with the person presenting it. The recording of serial numbers does not prevent this risk at all.

Furthermore, what happens if someone does allege that a third party had impersonated him to cast a vote? Will the Elections Department search through every ballot to identify the ballot corresponding to the complainant? But what would this achieve? And without CCTV footage of every single vote cast, how would the authorities ascertain that the complainant had not, in fact, cast the vote which is now being challenged?

Finally, I am not convinced that allocation of voting lanes is necessary for smooth voting. Why can't allocation of voting lanes be done on the spot? After all, that is how Changi Airport manages its taxi queues, and it does a wonderful job of channelling masses of people to different stations.

Just as justice must be done and seen to be done, voting must be secret and seen to be secret. The reality is that some voters are unconvinced that their votes are secret. Therefore, the onus is on the authorities to review the practices in question and determine whether they are needed and whether they actually achieve their stated objectives.

Otherwise, say what we will about the integrity of the electoral process and the need to defend it, some people will always view the process as flawed and suspect, and that is not an ideal situation to have in an otherwise efficient system. - TODAY /dt

The writer is a lawyer commenting in his personal capacity.


Anonymous said...

Well, remember the White Horse issue in the SAF brought up in Parliament? The 'white horse' mark was supposed to serve the purpose of making sure these whites horses were not given preferable treatment. Haha. Its amazing how the truth can be distorted and explained.

mtc said...

the voting system is the best kept secret in intimidation. Going through those lanes & having your name & ic number shouted out (invented by those who knows how intimidation works - for a stupid reason that this is for verification??). If the serial numbers have not put any fear, the mere fact that your name & i/c number (when have you ever even in your life has both name & ic number shouted in public ...not even in school), this would have done the trick... a simple old trick to intimidate.

The assurance abt the vote being secret by the Election dept came out after the election. What a joke.

This is a good article - yes, the 2 factor authentication is already there...why the need for the serial number?? And all that shouting?

Anonymous said...

The ballot box and lane is allocated for specific residential units, that is how they are able to estimate the voting patterns of a hdb block or area.

i deliberately dropped my ballot paper into the ballot box of a different lane. The officials screamed to prevent me from doing so, but i just act blur and went ahead. Let them go ahead and estimate for all they want.

Capt_Canuck said...

So, if people are so concerned about the serial numbers and all, why doesnt everyone take in a bottle of 'white out' or 'liquid paper' into the ballot voting booth and white out the little serial numbers that they think are linking the ballots to the person. Think if enough people did that and spoilt enough ballots, that the gov't might actually sit back and think that perhaps the people are trying to tell them something?

Though, mind you, brave words from someone living in a free country and not in the intimidation zone of Singapore.

Anonymous said...

I think the system of sealing up and later destroying the ballots in the presence of all parties' representatives is reasonable, and the possibility of checking a person's vote should not be taken out of proportion

the "atmosphere of fear" has very little to do with the ballot handling issue

Matilah_Singapura said...

The IC Number thing is interesting. I have of often seen the results of some competition in the newspaper: IC numbers and names are published.

Identity theft hasn't really it Singapore in a big way yet. I hope it does.

Before ballot secrecy comes in, I would like to seel voting become voluntary. Every human being has a right to withdraw from an activity he doesn't care for or believe in.

a.k.tan said...

Some elections back when the 'Mentor' was PM, he threatened the electorate by saying he would find out why those who voted against the PAP did so. That was in a speech after an election when the public was beginning to be brave enough to rub the dictatorship up the right way. I still remember the sinister and menacing tone when Harry Lee made his open threat.

I would very much doubt in a genuinely free election where such perversed method as requiring i/c etc details on counter-stubs are banned the PAP can do well at all.

the murderous children said...

matilah, you will never see complete IC numbers in the singapore media again:

Stopping identity theft (15 Sept 2005)

IDENTITY card numbers splashed across newspaper advertisements are likely to be a thing of the past, as the Government moves to tighten disclosure rules amid growing concerns about identity theft.

Last week, the Information, Communications and the Arts Ministry sent a letter to Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) and MediaCorp advising them to refrain from publishing IC numbers in full in their advertisements.

This means contest results announced in the newspapers, for example, are likely to show only part of a person’s IC.

SPH senior vice-president for marketing Mable Chan said the publisher has “strongly advised” advertisers to follow the new guidelines, even though they are not compulsory.
full article: http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2005/9/15/asia/12042432&sec=asia

Anonymous said...

Only reason why voting is mandatory is because the PAP knows if it becomes voluntary, they will lose a significant amount of votes compared to the opposition. PAP supporters will be going , "why vote when I know my party is gonna win?" They need the "large" amount of votes to show the citizens' confidence in the government.

Whereas opposition supporters will vote because they know every one of their votes count.

And regarding the vote secrecy, it isn't secret (the serial numbers are there for a reason and to come up with such a lame excuse such as verification, it shows how shallow the government thinks its people are)--according to a friend of mine who works in the Ministry of Defence.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone knows how other elections function?

Perhaps, the election department can learn from them or compare notes. Since, we always aim for best and first world - our election should be WORDL class too.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised noone commented on the fact that this article appeared on our local media? What happened to all our media-bashers?

But whatever the case, maybe your friend might want to show some "evidence" on how the vote is not secret.

- Impassioned Singaporean