Home News Many overseas Singaporeans unable to vote due to pandemic and system glitches

Many overseas Singaporeans unable to vote due to pandemic and system glitches

A number of Singaporeans residing overseas are unable to vote due to health concerns, long quarantine measures as well as regulations preventing them from flying in and out of where they currently reside

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The call for an election amidst a pandemic has raised many voting issues for Singaporeans living abroad which forms approximately 15 percent of the population. This is equivalent to three in every 20 people.

Overseas residents have two options: either fly back to Singapore to vote or travel to one of the 10 overseas polling stations. After talking to various Singaporeans around the world, here are some issues they have faced in their attempts to vote.

Missed deadlines over system glitches
An overseas voter would need to ensure that a Local Contact Address (LCA) has been registered with the Immigration Checkpoint Authority (ICA), after which a registration with the Elections Department Singapore (ELD) as an overseas voter should be made.

Melvin Seet, a resident of Zurich, has been attempting to register his address since September last year. His application was rejected by the ICA on the premise that there was no response from his family to verify the address on his behalf.

He had previously made sure to remind his parents to “keep a lookout” for letters, calls, and WhatsApp messages for attempts from the ICA to verify the address.

He attempted again in June before the election was called. It was rejected this time due to an “invalid address”, as stated on the system. After pursuing the matter, the ICA announced that there was a system glitch that also affected 101 other applicants.

Throughout this whole process, there was no alert on any status change in his application — Melvin had to keep checking the portal for updates. Additionally, the public inspection period — when applicants could verify their particulars and feedback to the ICA for changes — was during the quarantine period. He was busy juggling his work and his son’s studies.

The ICA has not allowed any changes to the Register after the inspection period.

“I think it is irresponsible of the ICA to cast us aside like that despite having made a mistake,” Melvin said. Despite scheduling his flight back to Singapore early to be able to vote in time, he was not given clear feedback on his failed applications and missed the deadline for rectification.

Similarly, James Wong, based in Bristol, experienced a similar problem, only that he was unable to get an explanation from the ICA on his failed LCA registration despite reaching out to them.

He had previously planned to travel to London to vote but is now unable to do so.

Health concerns
The only polling station in Europe is in London. For many Singaporean residents in Europe, this means that traveling to the UK, the country hardest hit by COVID19, and having a quarantine of a month.

For Daryl Tan Chen Ming ⁠— Chairman of the MRS Gateway Corporation, as well as the great-grandson of the late overseas Chinese philanthropist, Tan Kah Kee ⁠— traveling amidst the pandemic presents health risks that he cannot afford to take. Based in Madrid, he has just recovered from a near-death experience with COVID19 and is in the long process of recovery.

He has expressed great disappointment at the current voting situation for overseas Singaporeans especially given that he has been part of efforts overseas to get “closer to home”.

“The Singaporean volunteer committee in Spain works hard to get Singaporeans together,” he said. “I feel we have been thrown a bomb, and we are forgotten,” he added.

The response Daryl received from the ELD on the situation he’s facing explained their reasons for not carry out other methods of voting such as in-mail, proxy and online, and offers no solution applicable to him.

All flights suspended
For Hana Hadad, a resident of Oman, the severity of the epidemic there has rendered her without options to vote at all.

With daily new cases averaging at a thousand as of 3rd July, all domestic and international flights have been suspended. Therefore, flying out of the country to vote at the nearest polling station in Dubai is not even a viable option for her. Moreover, the government of Oman has recommended that residents “limit their travels unless extremely urgent” due to the severity of the situation.

Issues “holding job” given uncertain return date
In Western Australia, the re-entries from domestic travel are only for Western Australian citizens. Thilagaraj Ganapathi, a Singaporean resident in Perth, Western Australia would be unable to return to Perth should he travel to Australia’s polling station in Canberra, Eastern Australia, to vote.

He might be able to travel to Singapore to vote but his re-entry is subject to approval by the Western Australia government and given his uncertain return date, he faces issues “holding his job”.

The takeaway
According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his/her country”.

The right to vote for every Singaporean should be enforced through a more accessible remote voting process. Till then, holding an election in a pandemic will only disproportionately affect overseas voters and put local voters at risk of contracting COVID19.

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