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HomesingaporeCNA Explains: Sample counts, invalid votes and recounts – what you need...

CNA Explains: Sample counts, invalid votes and recounts – what you need to know about PE2023 Polling Day

SINGAPORE: On Friday (Sep 1), Singaporeans will head to the polls to vote for the country’s ninth President. This is the first contested election since 2011, which saw former President Tony Tan winning the final vote.

Contesting in the 2023 Presidential Election are former GIC chief investment officer Ng Kok Song, former Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam and former NTUC Income chief executive and second-time candidate Tan Kin Lian.

Polling stations will open from 8am to 8pm, after which counting of the votes will begin.

Here’s what you need to know about how your votes will be counted. 

What is the sample count and why is it important?

The Elections Department Singapore (ELD) first started publicly releasing sample counts in the 2015 General Election. 

The sample count is done at the start of the counting process and gives an early indication of the election outcome ahead of the final tally. 

ELD said sample counts are done to prevent speculation and misinformation from unofficial sources while counting is underway, before election results are announced.

A sample count also helps election officials check against the election result.

How is the sample count calculated? 

A counting assistant at each counting place will pick a random bundle of 100 ballot papers and count the number of votes for each candidate. This will be done in front of the candidates or their counting agents.

The votes will be added up, with weightage given according to the number of votes cast at each polling station. 

The sample count will be shown as a percentage of valid votes for each candidate. 

The assistant returning officer then records the votes for each candidate in a form and tells the candidates or their counting agents at each polling station the sample count results. 

The sample count will also be released to the media and published on the ELD website while counting is still in progress. 

The public should wait for the returning officer’s announcement to know the election result, ELD said, adding that the final result could be different from the sample count. 

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When does counting start?

The counting of votes cast in Singapore will begin immediately after polls close. This usually takes place on the night of Polling Day and may continue into the early hours of the next day.

Once polls close at 8pm, the slits on the ballot boxes through which votes are dropped in are sealed. The ballot boxes are then transported to the assigned counting places for the votes to be counted. Each counting place will be designated to count the votes cast at one or more polling stations.

Counting will start as soon as all the ballot boxes that are designated for counting at the same place have been received.

What is considered an invalid vote?

When votes are being counted, some ballot papers may be rejected if:

They do not bear the complete official mark or there is no initial by the presiding officerThey are unmarkedThey are void for uncertaintyVotes are given to more than one candidateAnything is written or marked by which the voter can be identified such as if the voter signs or writes their name or NRIC number

Only marks made within the designated boxes on ballot papers will be counted. If a voter makes a mark outside of the designated boxes, the assistant returning officer must disregard that mark when determining whether the voter has given their vote to any candidate.

A ballot paper will not be treated as void even if voters mark the designated area with something other than a cross or with more than one marking. This is as long as the intention of the voter on which candidate they are voting for is clear, and that the paper is marked in a way that does not identify the voter. 

Will there be a recount?

The returning officer must conduct a recount if the difference between the number of votes for the candidate with the most votes and for any other candidate is 2 per cent or less. 

This percentage is of the total votes cast, and does not include rejected or tendered votes. According to the ELD website, tendered ballot papers are issued to individuals who insist on voting even after the election official informs them that they have already been recorded as having cast their vote. 

No recounting of overseas votes will be conducted if the votes have no impact on the election outcome.

If the overseas votes have an impact on the election results – if the number brings the margin of difference to within 2 per cent between the top two candidates – a recount of the overseas votes will be conducted.

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How are overseas votes counted?

Postal voting for overseas Singaporeans will be used for the first time during the Presidential Election, after changes to election laws were passed earlier this year. 

There are also 10 overseas polling stations in the following cities: Beijing, Canberra, Dubai, Hong Kong, London, New York, San Francisco, Shanghai, Tokyo and Washington.

All ballot papers cast by overseas voters must reach Singapore within 10 days after Polling Day. The returning officer will arrange for the counting of overseas votes to be conducted in the presence of the candidates and their counting agents as soon as practicable after the 10th day from Polling Day.

The returning officer may extend the time for overseas votes to reach Singapore by another seven days if two conditions are fulfilled: The total number of overseas voters is material to the election outcome, and the returning officer is satisfied that more time is needed for the overseas votes to reach Singapore in the event of disruptions in overseas postal services.

The rules relating to the counting, recounting and rejection of votes cast locally are generally applicable to votes cast at overseas polling stations.

For votes cast by post, a pre-count examination of postal voting papers comprising the return envelope with the postal ballot papers enclosed will be conducted to ensure only bona fide postal ballot papers are counted.

This will help to sieve out return envelopes that do not meet the criteria to be accepted for counting, such as those torn or with stamps dated on Polling Day or later.

When will the results be announced?

When counting is completed for all the votes cast, including any recount, the returning officer will tally the number of votes given to each candidate based on the records of counting received. 

Once this is ascertained, the returning officer will announce the number of votes given to each candidate to the candidates and their principal election agents present at the principal counting centre.

If the number of eligible overseas voters is less than the difference between the top two candidates, the returning officer will declare the candidate with the highest number of votes as the elected President.

If the number of overseas voters is equal to or more than the difference between the top two candidates, then the returning officer will announce the votes cast locally for each candidate, and the date and venue at which the ballot papers cast overseas will be counted.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article said the sample count will take place at the polling stations. ELD has clarified that it should be at the counting centres.

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