Is your vote secret?

By | May 6, 2006
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I can’t say for sure since this is the first time I voted in a general election. But what I do notice is that the ballot slip does have a serial number printed on it, so it’s not urban legend or the words of one with irrational fears.

Matching the serial number with the details on the stub retained by the polling officer at the polling centre, I suppose it is possible to trace back how an individual voter cast his/her vote, let alone the voting pattern of an entire precinct.

Could this have an influence on how voters made their choice?

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One thought on “Is your vote secret?

  1. chiamseetong

    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.


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