On 1 September 2023, Singaporeans will head to the polls to cast their vote for President.
What accessibilities are available at the polls for Singapore’s 2023 Presidential Elections (PE 2023) to assist you if you are a voter with a disability? And what are some ways that Singapore can take to further improve to increase inclusion in its election system? Below is a quick overview.
Current accessibilities at Singapore polling stations
All voting areas at polling stations will have barrier-free drop off points designated for seniors and individuals with disabilities who require physical barrier-free wheelchair access. Priority queuing will also be offered for such voters. If the person with a disability requires a caregiver to be present with them during queuing, one caregiver may be present provided that the caregiver is also an eligible voter.
If persons with disabilities are by themselves and require any assistance, all voting areas at polling stations are staffed with election officials who are ready and trained to assist persons with disabilities – whether it be assistance with being guided through the voting process or assisting individuals with disabilities who cannot mark the ballot by themselves (election officials have been sworn under oath to keep the vote secret). Visually impaired voters will have the option to use stencils provided at the polling station should they require such assistance.
A few new additions this year will assist in improving accessibility at polling stations – particularly regarding reducing congestion at polling stations.
For example, the total number of polling stations have been increased by 15% since the 2020 General Elections (GE 2020) – from 1,097 to 1,264. The total number of registration and ballot paper counters – along with the total number of election officers – at each polling station have also been increased. Additionally, voters will be able to check the queue status at polling stations via a link found on their ePoll card through the Singpass app, or by scanning the QR code on their physical poll card.
Such improvements will not only assist with congestion for the general public, but also will assist persons with disabilities who may find it difficult to navigate crowded spaces whether due to mobility or sensory reasons.
If you have further or specific questions, you can call the elections hotline at 1800 225 5353 or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
How can Singapore elections be made more inclusive?
Singapore has progressed in inclusivity pertaining to elections. The above features are vital and important to improve accessibility at polling stations for persons with disabilities.
Having noted this, there are additional ways the elections system in Singapore can further improve to ensure accessibility and inclusivity for persons with disabilities throughout the election cycle. Below is a brief overview of several examples of suggestions for improving the inclusiveness of the election cycle for voters with disabilities during future elections.
For example, the improvements over the years to reducing congestion at polling stations is a much needed positive. However, the Elections Department (ELD) can consider implementing designated voting areas at polling stations for voters with noise sensitivities or other conditions that make it difficult to navigate crowds.
Additionally, election laws were amended earlier this year to introduce mobile polling stations for seniors in nursing homes and postal voting for the first time for Singaporeans living overseas. Such improvements are important steps and will make it easier to vote for such individuals. However, the government can consider extending the option of utilizing mobile polling stations and postal voting to more Singaporeans for future elections – as such options have the potential to meet the access needs of seniors with disabilities who do not reside within nursing homes and persons with disabilities below the age of 65 residing in Singapore who might find the access of mobile polling stations and vote by mail a more accessible option due to their disabilities.
We appreciate the government’s efforts thus far in improving accessibility in voting, and note that increasing and diversifying the means of voting while assuring election integrity will require precision and additional efforts and manpower. However, we encourage the government to continue building off its efforts thus far and examine ways to further diversify means of voting to optimise access and inclusivity in Singapore elections.
Moreover, the election cycle is not only confined to election day. Campaigning and how candidates reach out to voters and the information that is available to all voters must be made accessible to voters with disabilities.
For example, while Thursday’s (24 Aug) Singapore Presidential Candidate Broadcast had subtitles on several television stations, there were no Singapore Sign Language (SGSL) interpretation provided in the various broadcast mediums. For many deaf individuals, SGSL is their first language – not English, Mandarin, Malay, or Tamil – hence the importance of providing SGSL interpretations during such important broadcasts. This further underscores the need for SGSL to be made into an official language – as championed by many deaf advocates in Singapore.
There should also be a concerted effort to ensure and optimise accessibility in campaign materials and activities. There are currently guidelines and regulations on how candidates have to implement their campaigns – from the amount a campaign is financed, to forms of campaign advertisements, to authorisations on the setting up of posters and banners. For future elections, ELD can include specifications or advisories to campaigns on improving inclusion and accessibility in the outreach of campaigns.
ELD can further look into setting up an accessibility department within ELD that can provide technical assistance to campaigns on improving accessibility of campaign materials, accessibility of rallies during GEs, and online campaign events. ELD can also look into setting up a fund that campaigns can tap on should any accessibility implementations acquire financial costs.
Furthermore, while we appreciate that there is a hotline for Singaporeans to call should they have questions, we were informed that the email to contact ELD during the days leading up to election day may be difficult to get a response and that it is better to call the hotline. While we understand the increase amount of enquiries that may be sent during the days leading up to an election, deaf individuals or individuals with various speech disabilities may find it difficult, or simply cannot rely on a hotline and will need to communicate their enquiries through writing. ELD can assist by creating an email or by improving online enquiry submissions for disability-related enquiries that is checked regularly.
[The above is a summary of a few recommendations to further optimise the experience of voters with disabilities during the election cycle. DPA will be publishing further in-depth commentaries in the future pertaining to other aspects of enhancing political participation of persons with disabilities – including how political parties need to be more intentional in fielding disabled candidates during GEs, and areas for improvements of coverage of disability issues in the media and policy spaces especially during election cycles.]