Counting agent me

“At the last election, we had only thirty-something polling agents and counting agents,” said Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chief Chee Soon Juan at a briefing on Polling Day. He was smiling. The party office was full to overflowing.

I hadn’t planned to be a counting agent. Besides having an Australian visitor in town, for weeks my friends were hatching plans to hold election-watch parties. Eventually, nothing much came of those plans and so when at around 4 p.m., a text message came to me from Vincent Wijeysingha appealing for help to round up more counting agents, I was able to volunteer.

“How many do you need?” I texted him back.

“We need about 100. So send as many as u can,” came the reply. I later learned they were about 40 short as at mid-afternoon.

With a flurry of text messages, I rustled up a significant number from among my friends, and via the gay and lesbian network. It was amazing how many people said Yes without hesitation, jumping into taxis to make their way to a part of Singapore few have ever been to (the party headquarters is really out of the way). At least one friend cancelled dinner plans to come in. This lot may not be representative of Singaporeans generally, but at least among this section of Singaporeans the climate of fear is becoming a thing of the past.

The SDP was not the only party with a surfeit of volunteers, albeit a surfeit that poured in only when they realised ridiculously late in the day that they were short. I know for a fact from Sylvia Lim, chair of the Workers’ Party, that they too had more than enough polling and counting agents well before Nomination Day.

* * * * *

I shall take this opportunity to describe what happens at a counting centre, based on my first-hand experience.

After the briefing and the oath-taking (secrecy under the law) at the party HQ, three of us arrived at our assigned counting centre just before 8 p.m, to find three more volunteers for SDP already there. That made a total of six, the maximum quota for this counting centre. Shortly after passing through a security check to enter the hall, volunteers #7 and #8 came but were not allowed in because the quota had been filled. Wow, from being short of volunteers four hours earlier, the party had more than they could use!

The People’s Action Party’s six counting agents arrived after us, all dressed in party white, almost marching in like an infantry platoon — not like us, some in workclothes, one in shorts, complete with satchel bags and cups of sugar-cane juice. Ah, but beneath the ragtag appearance, we were armed with pens, notebooks and calculators. I wonder if the the PAP guys were surprised to see a full contingent for the SDP unlike previous years.

At around 8:30 p.m. the ballot boxes arrived from the six polling stations this counting centre would serve. The boxes (about three or four) from each polling station were brought to one of six assigned tables. Thus, each table would count the votes of one polling station, with an average of 3,000 – 4,000 ballots.

The tables were about 2 metres square — larger than a king-sized bed — around which was seated a table chief and four counting staff. Upon instruction by the officer presiding over the entire centre, the ballot boxes were shown to us, so we could verify that the seals which had been affixed at the polling stations at the close of the voting day were not broken.

The boxes were then opened and the contents poured out onto the centre of the table. Counting agents were free to move around to look over the shoulders of the counting staff. However, we could not speak to the staff, nor touch any ballot paper. If we wished to dispute the sorting of any ballot, we had to take it up with the table chief.

Generally, the counting process was very efficient, with all tables following a standardised procedure. There were several rounds of counting, with each block of sorted ballots rechecked and re-counted by another member of the staff.

Most of the time, the voter’s choice was obvious. Where the ballot paper had unusual markings, the counter would pass it to the table chief who would show it to a counting agent from each party and announce his decision as to how to treat that ballot. As counting agents, we could offer our views but his decision would be final.

Here are some of the things I remember coming across:

The vast majority of voters marked their ballot paper with a cross as in example 1. A few marked their ballot paper with a tick, but so long as the rest of the ballot paper was clean, the tick would be accepted as sufficiently indicative of the voter’s intention. Other than such clean markings, counting staff would pass the ballot paper to the table chief for adjudication.

Table chiefs routinely rejected ballots where any part of the cross or tick crossed the boundary line, such as example 3.  Where the voter made more than one marking, as in example 4, it was always rejected by the table chiefs at the counting centre where I attended.

However, I later exchanged notes with my friend who was assigned to a different counting centre, and she told me that at that place, there was at least one incident when a ballot paper marked like example 4 was awarded as a vote for the “triangle and star” party. The table chief’s reasoning was that by law, the voter should mark his intention with a cross and since the cross was placed against the “triangle and star” party, the vote was given to it.

Occasionally I saw ballot papers with all sorts of strange markings, but so long as there was only one marking that did not cross the boundary (e.g. examples 5 and 6 above) the table chief would treat it as a valid vote.

More strange markings I came across, routinely accepted by table chiefs as valid votes.

I saw one ballot that looked like example 9, with two ticks. It was accepted as valid. There was one ballot that looked like example 10. It too was treated as a valid vote for the ” triangle and star” party despite my protest, the reasoning being that the voter only marked one half of the ballot paper and left the other half clean.

While watching another table, I came across another ballot rather similar to example 10, shown here as example 11. It too was accepted as a vote in favour of the “triangle and star party”.

However, the counting staff and table chiefs were scrupulously fair. For every “go to hell” ballot there were at least fifty more with the faintest of scratches, as in example 12. Again, they would use the same rule — so long as the single marking stayed within one box, they accepted it as a valid vote. The layman might think however that the marking was accidental, the result of a pen falling onto the paper or slipping out of the voter’s hand. Then again, there might well be some people who, liking neither candidate, deliberately let a dropping pen from a height of 40 cm make the choice for them. Who is to say that is not a valid decision matrix?

* * * * *

Democracy is a seductive concept in the abstract. Look too closely and you might see the whole thingamajig flying by the seat of its pants.

212 Responses to “Counting agent me”

  1. 1 Mirax 8 May 2011 at 22:47

    Ha! didnt know about WP having a surfeit of volunteers. Trying to be fair this year, I donated money to the SDP and signed up online as a WP volunteer, the day before nomination day. Was feeling a teeny bit miffed that no one from the WP had replied to date!

    • 2 Diana 9 May 2011 at 10:44

      hey mirax, please pardon them for not getting back to you on time. many of the admin stuffs worked till 11pm that night just by making phone calls. and later on were activated to remove banners 200m within voting centers…
      thank you for the effort.
      (i’m not member from the WP. just a volunteer who was waiting by the phone too!)

      • 3 Mirax 9 May 2011 at 21:24

        Oh no, I was just joking about feeling put out. Figure that it is up to me to make more of an effort to get involved.

        So many volunteers on this thread – a great big cheer to all of you!

  2. 4 Mirax 8 May 2011 at 22:56

    Oh dear, I have been tempted in the past to do a No 10 against the PAP symbol and am appalled to know that that is a valid vote. Crazy! Quite fascinating information. Thanks, Alex.

  3. 5 marine parade lobster 8 May 2011 at 23:00

    very useful insight. This election has really opened my eyes.

  4. 8 ExExpat 8 May 2011 at 23:09

    Hi Alex, very entertaining this one. One question to voting in Potong Pasir, not sure who knows:

    The very few voters that made the difference, at which point, how, are the overseas votes counted in, I assume they cannot change the conclusion can they? But then, if 300 overseas Potong Pasir ex-residents voted against the triangle & star, how?

    • 9 yawningbread 8 May 2011 at 23:29

      They probably know that there are fewer than 114 overseas voters registered for Potong Pasir constituency, that’s how the Returning Officer could declare the local votes as “conclusive”.

      • 10 kirsten 8 May 2011 at 23:56

        From what I have heard, after counting the overseas votes the vote margin was 78. I haven’t really been able to determine if this information has been verified, but that’s what the Potong Pasir residents who are getting a petition together are saying.

      • 11 Faithless 9 May 2011 at 12:35

        Nope. All overseas votes would have been counted by the time the Returning Office makes his declaration.

      • 12 Ace 9 May 2011 at 13:52

        All overseas ballots are sent back to Singapore. They are not counted overseas.

      • 13 Rajiv Chaudhry 9 May 2011 at 17:45

        Not really. Overseas votes are sent back to Singapore and counted within 10 days of polling day (Handbook for Parliamentary Election Candidates 2011 section 7.2)

        FYI, section 49 sub-section 7 (a) and (b) say:

        (a) where the total number of overseas electors lawfully entitled to vote at the election in that electoral division is less than the difference between the number of votes given to the candidates or (as the case may be) groups of candidates with the 2 greatest number of votes, the Returning Officer shall declare the candidate or (as the case may be) group of candidates to whom the greatest number of votes is given to be elected; or

        (b) where the total number of overseas electors lawfully entitled to vote at the election in that electoral division is equal to or more than the difference between the number of votes given to the candidates or (as the case may be) groups of candidates with the 2 greatest number of votes, the Returning Officer shall declare the number of votes cast in Singapore in favour of each candidate or (as the case may be) group of candidates at the election, and the date and premises at which the votes cast by the overseas electors will be counted.

    • 14 twasher 9 May 2011 at 19:44

      I did a quick estimate of the expected number of overseas Potong Pasir voters.

      According to Today, there were 3452 registered overseas voters. Potong Pasir has ~17,000 voters. The total electorate in Singapore is 2.3 million. So Potong Pasir voters are about 17000/2300000=0.0074 of the total electorate in Singapore.

      Applying the same proportions to the overseas voters, 0.0074×3452=26. That is, if overseas voters are randomly distributed with respect to electoral districts, we should expect only about 26 overseas voters for Potong Pasir.

      Now if Kirsten’s information is correct, then there were at least 38 overseas voters for Potong Pasir, significantly more than 26. It’s possible that for whatever reason, overseas Singaporeans from Potong Pasir are more likely to register to vote (because they perceive a close fight in PP or they are more committed politically). Or that (former) residents of PP are more likely to be based overseas.

      But would the distribution of overseas voters across electoral districts be skewed to the extent that there are 116 Potong Pasir voters rather than the expected number of 26 from a random distribution? I have no idea.

      On another note, does anyone know where the final results including the overseas votes will be published? I’m curious myself to know how overseas votes skew.

      • 15 keely 10 May 2011 at 16:30

        Overseas voters are not “randomly distributed”, but have to vote in the electoral district where their registered addresses are (like on your NRIC). =)

  5. 16 Peter Mak 8 May 2011 at 23:14

    This is very interesting; thanks for sharing. I remember it being reported years ago in the media that there have been marks like a smiley face drawn into the space.

    The “Go to hell” example is funny and ironic – I wonder if the voter was trying to present a spoilt vote, unaware that his/her vote would assist that party instead.

    • 17 Mediacasting 9 May 2011 at 09:35

      I, too, was a counting agent. In fact, it was given to me to also be the chief coordinator for all the counting agents for SPP in my counting center.

      Quickly discerning the state of affairs, the PAP group’s counting agent coordinator squared off with me at the table that had one of the largest pile. He was a seasoned PAP member with prior experience about such things, and I was doing this for the first time.

      Now that I have seen for myself how things are done, and proven certain strategies that I employed in my face-off, I do believe that counting agents can behave in a tactical way as to ensure a smooth process while challenging ambiguous votes, and to also overcome the “one counting agent per table” limit and still have good general oversight of two sorting piles.

      I won’t go into too much detail, but I would like to mention that the “go to hell” example may be challenged IF you have already scored tactical points with the table chief and the counting agent from the other party. Once you have shown yourself to be a level-headed, uncontentious challenger, you can say “The voter’s intent in this paper is uncertain. If I were to tell you to ‘go to hell’, you won’t really feel like I’m very supportive, would you? However, I will also point out that while the voter appears to not be supportive of so-and-so party, there is also no indication that the voter supports the other party. Therefore this vote is spoilt because the intent is not clear.”

      If I were the counting agent, and have scored all my tactical points, I do believe I would be able to salvage the situation in this matter (especially if that vote went to my competitor).

    • 18 mangay 9 May 2011 at 12:57

      He should hve written the go to hell diagonally *nodswisely*
      I gues he didn’t like the oopsition enough to vote for it but he didn’t want to give the PAP a strong mandate either

  6. 19 anagent 8 May 2011 at 23:15

    Yeah, I was one of the last minute counting agents who went down to their headquarters after reading about their predicament on Facebook. It was quite crazy there as people were filling in forms, signing, photocopying their ICs and then attending the briefing.

    And after all that, arriving at the counting centre only to be told that the max there (4) was already reached so we can’t go in.

    Oh well, at least I have the oath form as a souvenir. =D

  7. 20 vin 8 May 2011 at 23:36

    Imagine how many votes had been given to the incumbent when voters wrote hateful comments on their row. Tsk.

    • 21 9 May 2011 at 15:01

      I know of cases in last election when ‘FU’ written against the PAP symbol were treated as valid votes.

  8. 22 Paul 8 May 2011 at 23:47

    They were short of polling agents though – At the polling station I went to, there were three shifts of PAP polling agents, all local grassroots leaders who came well equipped with lists of all the voters names, NRIC numbers, addresses and voting serial numbers which they pointedly studied every time the voters names were shouted out. These are available to all parties but only the PAP had the resources to pay for them. Not sure about WP.

    From the SDP side, there were only five young volunteers who took the entire shift including a break to vote themselves – two did not have photocopies of their oaths of secrecy and thus were not allowed back into the polling station after voting further increasing the manpower staffing gap. This quite limited the polling agents ability to monitor the election officials attempts to help voters complete ballot papers and also added to the intimidation factor when the grassroots leaders pointedly checked off the details of each voter in turn.

    Still I think that all the alternative parties learned their lessons on the polling and counting processes.

    • 23 meep 9 May 2011 at 00:57

      ewwww. that is available? i did not notice that but that’s scary to have someone keeping track

    • 24 Cephas 9 May 2011 at 01:24

      You mentioned “all local grassroots leaders who came well equipped with lists of all the voters names, NRIC numbers, addresses and voting serial numbers which they pointedly studied every time the voters names were shouted out.”

      Do this means that they will know who voted for who? Then isn’t that our vote is no longer a secret ?

      • 25 Murli 9 May 2011 at 14:29

        It is still a secret. They may have your name and number but they don’t know which candidate you marked X against (if any). The only way this can be traced is if they go back and pick up a ballot and then cross-check the serial number against someone’s name. My understanding is that this has never happened before. It will also never happen in future also because:

        1. The government cares about its “legitimacy” (such as it is) and wants to be perceived by the outside world as having abided by its own rules.

        2. Fortunately or unfortunately, none of us as individuals is important enough to require a “spot check” of who we voted for 🙂

        There are a few Youtube videos and articles on the web that explain voting secrecy better than I do, so go take a look!

    • 26 trix 9 May 2011 at 02:49

      “… PAP polling agents, all local grassroots leaders who came well equipped with lists of all the voters names, NRIC numbers, addresses and voting serial numbers which they pointedly studied every time the voters names were shouted out.”

      Hmmm… I thought they said your vote is secret.

      • 27 Lim 9 May 2011 at 14:04

        It is secret.

        They have the list to strike out the names of those who collected their ballot slip so that no one votes more then once.

        Note that at time point, you have not written anything on the slip.

        They know you have voted, but they do NOT know WHO you voted for.

      • 28 MelG 9 May 2011 at 17:24

        i was a polling agent for WP, and we too had the name lists and voting serial numbers of the voters of that polling station. No NRIC numbers and addresses though.

        The names of the voters were read out by the presiding officer and the polling agents would then strike the names off the list. This process is to ensure that no one votes twice.

        the voter’s vote remains secret, as we do not know who they voted for. What we are able to verify, is only the the fact that they were issued a voting slip.

    • 29 Mel 9 May 2011 at 12:13


      i and my son did the polling agent for 12 hrs (sembawang grc) at our polling station there shd be 7 polling agent bt SDP only hv 6.
      by end of the day left only 3 of us and yup PAP have 2 shift among themselves. But on my side we are so lucky as our polling senior presiding office are very2 nice ppl which give us extra food, drink and break time..its a very good experiance for both me and my son…will do again next time..

    • 30 Lim 9 May 2011 at 14:02

      The Polling agents are supposed to inform the Returning Officer when they leave, so that they can return w/o producing another form.

    • 31 whatu1 9 May 2011 at 17:21

      Are you mistaking those assisting the poll with Polling agent?

    • 32 whatu1 9 May 2011 at 17:38

      Polling list is not available to any parties regardless paid or otherwise. Are you sure you worked as a polling agent? When you go to poll, Nric no and name mentioned to confirm you are the person on the IC. Only number written on poll card. No IC No or Name. I checked my card. So how in hell can the polling agent know the IC and name? Scare mogul tactics? Make me wonder are you a party spy?

    • 33 Paul 2 9 May 2011 at 19:02

      I too volunteered to be a polling agent for the SDP and I stayed at my polling station for almost the entire polling period (leaving only to vote in my own constituency).

      However, I would hasten to assure people that the actions of the PAP polling agents do not in any way compromise the secrecy of the vote. They do check voters’ names off the electoral register, but the purpose of this is actually to ensure (countercheck, really, since a Presiding Officer at each polling place also does that) that those receiving the ballot slips really are registered voters and haven’t already voted. In other words, I think this is meant to be a partisan oversight mechanism to prevent ‘ballot stuffing’. They don’t record any other information, and in any case, at the close of the polling period, they don’t get to bring their marked registers away with them – all registers are sealed together with the other bumf from the polling place.

      Of course, I don’t discount the psychological effect of seeing the PAP polling agents doing this, so it may be beneficial if polling agents for non-PAP candidates did the same. But of course, more resources are required, and certainly more manpower. At my polling station there were eight polling places but only four SDP polling agents at the best of times. The PAP not only had enough for all eight polling places, they had shifts.

      • 34 Cephas 9 May 2011 at 23:06

        I see… so he is talking about polling agents (the one faciliting the voting) not the ones counting the votes. As mentioned the only time your name and nric is ever mentioned is when you collect the voting slip therafter your voting slip will only bear the serial no. and the person who count and tally your vote, should not and will not know who you are. The serial number itself on the voting slip makes the vote valid. We should educate people to indicate clearly their vote and not to any how waste it.

    • 35 peiying 10 May 2011 at 00:52

      I just want to comment on the point about not having the oath of secrecy on their return back to the polling station.

      Just to highlight the efficiency of the various parties.

      When I volunteered for WP, they sent me an email to pick a timeslot for me to have my oath of secrecy form done. They had multiple time slots a day.

      When I went there, they already had all my forms prepared and I only had to fill out my personal details. They had a whole row of ‘commissioners of oaths’ lined up. The volunteers were made to sign in batches (almost like getting your passport/IC done at the ICA).

      It was all very efficient. I was initially only expected to be a polling agent and they put me on standby for counting. Nevertheless, they made be sign two forms for polling agent and one for counting. They were well prepared and well aware of the fact that the presiding officers might not let me back without a second oath of secrecy form – and they were right.

      I was really impressed by how efficient WP was for this elections. They ran a good solid campaign and even in the management of volunteers, they were well-rounded.

  9. 36 wen 8 May 2011 at 23:50

    Hi Alex, your article has been extremely informative. I hope to share this article so that more people will know that making their voices known are always subjected to “terms and conditions”! It’s not advisable to be creative!

  10. 37 ThePasserby 8 May 2011 at 23:53

    I volunteered to be a polling agent and just in case they needed me, I filled up the form for counting agent as well. NSP had more than enough volunteers for counting agents.

    Because they contested in the most number of seats, they needed more volunteers than other opposition parties. So on Friday evening, when we were supposed to be at their HQ for the paperwork, the office was completely filled up along with a queue that snaked down from the second floor to the ground floor and out onto the street. The number of volunteers was very encouraging.

  11. 38 lamdana 8 May 2011 at 23:54

    Our centre had something like 10 of us! And only five were allowed. And then we were also told SDP wanted one of their regular boys to be always present as a kind of chef de mission.
    We divided into two shifts and half of us with some people hanging out in the school canteen waiting their turn. The boxes were very late arriving and the guys only started sorting out at around 9p.m. if i recall correctly. I was in the first shift and watched over the sorting till 10p.m. I spent another hour hanging out downstairs waiting for my friend in the second shift to finish at 11 o’clock. We went home to watch the results on tv after that. Those who took over from 11o’clock watched the counting till the end when the ballots were sealed again in their boxes.
    It was a good experience.The official who informed us that there were a limit to the number of agents present was polite and I think a little ‘bewildered’ and not a little amused at our enthusiasm.

  12. 39 kirsten 8 May 2011 at 23:54

    I think I saw you at the SDP office! I too got the message that counting agents were needed and came rushing to SDP HQ with my MOTHER and friend in tow.

    I feel bad for my mother now, she was probably expecting some nice birthday (it was her birthday) and Mother’s Day dinner, but all I gave her was a night staring at ballot papers in some faraway school hall.

    The table chief I had, when he came across #3, would accept it for the “triangle and star” party, because the X was “weighted” more towards them, and vice versa. It was a little unclear how close the middle of the X could be to the line before it was rejected.

    When he came across #5, he would reject it.

    I think if he saw #10 he would either reject it or give it to the “person” party, depending on whether the voter’s intention was clear or not (I can’t remember what he did with those I came across).

    It’s quite scary, especially with close margins, how this process works. I feel for the people of Potong Pasir with their 78-vote margin.

    • 40 Pat 10 May 2011 at 12:41

      This issue really must be addressed. A #10 (words like ‘go to hell’ and ‘fu’ that is clearly against one party’s space) surely CANNOT be a vote given to that party!!!! But by what I’m reading here, it is. Surely that should be a spoilt vote.

      Although it’s funny in a way (the FU thing that was mentioned by someone), actually it wouldn’t be if there is a close fight like in Potong Pasir. It’s really painful. Overall too, giving such a vote to the party that clearly has all these curses written across their space, would upp the percentage for them. One or two, maybe not. But think- if every ward has a handful of these, and they are deemed ‘acceptable’ and for the ‘cursed’ party, then wth!!!

      The other thing is, it should be drummed into people- via social media, via rallies etc, how to vote and NOT to do all these things no matter how much you hate whichever party. Every vote counts and it pains me to see that this kind of thing is happening, and what kind of consistency (or non-consistency as the case may be) there is.

      All votes matters, and as we can see, Potong Pasir fell because of such a narrow margin.

  13. 41 liew kai khiun 9 May 2011 at 00:00

    thanks for sharing this very interesting insight into the vote counting process. It must be really tiring for you to be there the whole night.

  14. 42 peiying 9 May 2011 at 00:07

    Hey Alex,

    I’m so happy that WP won in Aljunied that I screamed till my throat became sore.

    I did both the polling and counting agent duties for this time round of elections. Although we had ‘enough’ volunteers, we will still pretty short because at the last minute, some people didn’t turn up or couldn’t make it. I had to fill in as a counting agent at the very last minute.

    I think more should be done to educate the people who intend to spoil their votes so that they do not accidentally spoil it in a way that it goes to the ‘wrong’ party in the end!!

    These are some rules that I was briefed on..

    1. Any votes with vulgarities written will be considered rejected.

    2. Any votes with the voter’s name written or signed will be considered rejected.

    3. If majority of the ‘X’ is in a certain party’s box, it will go to that party.

    4. Anything drawn or written within the box, be it a lump of dung, a tortoise, a swearing finger, or some other type of offensive picture, will still be considered a vote for that party.

    • 43 peiying 9 May 2011 at 00:12

      Also to add on, at the counting station at I was at, at the table next to mine, there was a ballot slip with profanity written in the box for the ‘major’ party. The presiding officer ruled it void, despite that party’s polling agent persistent protest.

      So I don’t think these rules are really ‘across the board’!

  15. 44 Kristin 9 May 2011 at 00:13

    Thanks for this informative article. Especially for eg. 10 & 11. People who don’t wish to vote for a certain party might end up giving their precious vote to that party.

  16. 45 Winnie 9 May 2011 at 00:15

    Hey Alex,

    I was a morning shift polling agent, followed by counting gent for WP east coast team. We are all volunteers , no monetary incentives. The pappy polling agents in the polling ctr I was assigned to were a mixed group of volunteers and PDF teachers being ‘arrowed’ to be there . Your account is pretty consistent with what I have experienced. However, it seems that interrelation kn a vote varies center to center . The aro at the table where I was observing was looking foy symbols, and hence pen marks are rejected as non-conclusive.

    Quite an experience I must say .. 🙂 .

  17. 46 Ken 9 May 2011 at 00:17

    Hi Alex, your post raises some worrying questions. I agree with your view on the ballot slip that had “go to hell” written on it. I do not feel that it should be considered a vote for the party at which the message is clearly directed. It is surprising that the table chief went about his job in such an inflexible way. What is the purpose of having a human being vet the ballots, if the main concern is to ensure that the ballot had been marked only within the provided space? Surely he/she could have applied higher-level reasoning and common sense to his job! I wonder how this might have affected the results of closely-fought contests (Potong Pasir, Joo Chiat). Did the re-counts help to reduce the possibility of human misjudgment/”error”?

    And, of course, thank you for volunteering in the way you did.

  18. 47 Rabbit 9 May 2011 at 00:19

    So the deciding factor is like a computer scanning through a lottery bet slip. As long as there is mark on the number, the computer will accept the bet number. HOwever if it crossed the boundary like “3” it will be rejected. So similar.

    Than again, I would thing No.3 should be accepted as valid vote because some people have shaky hands or poor eyesight/doube vision (especially old folks) who might accidentally marked beyond the boundary.

    On voting day, I even made suggestion to my undecided parents to mark “O” on any box to spoil their vote. Now I know it didn’t quite help.

    Very insightful. I hope in future those party hater don’t write something funny only to have their vote accidentally casted to the party they hated.

  19. 48 jangancemas 9 May 2011 at 00:37

    I think there is a lack of consistency between tables. At my counting centre, example 3 was awarded as a valid vote, and example 4 was rejected.

  20. 49 Anonymous 9 May 2011 at 00:38

    You know Vincent Wijeysingha personally?! :O So lucky!

  21. 50 BlahBlah75 9 May 2011 at 00:39

    I find it rather senseless for some people to release their anger on a party by writing some strange messages on the ballot paper. Do they believe that the party member they hated could receive it?

  22. 51 Luke 9 May 2011 at 00:43

    seriously?! what if someone wrote “Go to hell PAP, I will never vote for you” in the PAP column so that it’s disdain for the party is left in no doubt. would that be construed as a vote for PAP too?

  23. 53 agneschia 9 May 2011 at 00:46

    yes, i confirmed all that are being shared in this posting based on my last experience as counting agent as well. the issue is, there is no consistency. in addition, there would often be vulgarities written in the box for a certain party and counted as valid votes for that certain party. usually such vulgarities will not be seen in the boxes of other parties other than the certain party. and yet the election department does not educate the electoral. i was told that due to the oath of secrecy i am not supposed to reveal whatever happened in the counting agent somemore. it all go accordance to the Parliamentary Elections Act Chapter 218 Section 42 and 50 and such provisions allow for many different permutations. is that right? it that just or are such laws lawful? i have been trying to educate my personal frens as and when i can. some people when hearing upon such had even wondered if it is a conspiracy that people are trying to confuse them.

  24. 54 Jimmy Foo 9 May 2011 at 00:48

    They could have thicken the borders separating the two and instructions on how to write on the ballot paper at the voting stations.

  25. 55 Aman 9 May 2011 at 00:50

    Yeh, WP counting Agents were briefed about the validity of all the funny markings.

    One difference though, is that we were told that a cross that crossed the boundary line will still be accepted and the vote will go to where the center of the cross is.

  26. 56 tanyongkuan 9 May 2011 at 00:52

    That was eye-opening! Thanks for sharing the information. Knowledge is king.

  27. 57 Yang 9 May 2011 at 00:53

    i was one of the counting agent for sdp last elections. my experience was totally different from yours. the officers there would ONLY accept X markings. no other markings or drawings or wordings were allowed. in the case of #3, where the X crossed the boundaries, the officer would award the vote to the party which has the bigger portion of the X. there were quite many argument between the pap counting agent (who was a young punk with specs and ironed white shirt and pants) and myself over #3 kinda votes.

    one interesting ballot sheet i remembered was one which the voter wrote ‘LEE KUAN YEW’ across the 2 boxes, which the officer awarded to the pap vote count. GOODNESS! that prompted another heated argument which the officer later decided to void it.

    that probably explained the poor showing of SDP in last elections.

  28. 58 ed 9 May 2011 at 00:57

    Hi Alex,

    This puzzles me. How then does one spoil a vote if it appears even the most pointed attempts at spoiling a vote are counted?

    • 59 yawningbread 9 May 2011 at 14:10

      Either leave the ballot paper blank, or put multiple crosses against all candidates/parties.

      • 60 12 May 2011 at 10:50

        The cleaner at my company crossed all the boxes under the impression that by doing so, her vote would be divided 50-50 between the parties – the ultimate in fence-sitting. Another story going round is that some old folks were told to put X against the party that they didn’t want.

      • 61 B. C. 12 May 2011 at 15:15

        “I want to void my vote this elections” across it.

        If they count it in, it would be travesty of democracy.

  29. 62 lohcheemeng 9 May 2011 at 01:00

    Thank you. Very informative indeed. Pls keep this in permanent archive and remind voters again in 5 years time. Good work to record this. Those voters who wrote “go to hell” better think twice since it is a vote for that go to hell party. Thanks again. : )

  30. 63 Sunfleur 9 May 2011 at 01:00

    Thanks, Mr Yawning Bread!

    I’ve copy this link into my FB so that more people can read it. Hope this is ok with you and that I have not flout any copyright laws.

  31. 64 JF 9 May 2011 at 01:07

    thnak you for such an insightful post

  32. 65 Jlim 9 May 2011 at 01:08

    Great article! Loved the diagrams. Now I know what all those “spoilt” votes meant.

  33. 66 prettyplace 9 May 2011 at 01:11

    It was a fun experience working with the SDP.
    Had a great time and exciting moments with some innocent policing and profiling going on.

    Can’t wait for the next one.

  34. 67 Anonymous 9 May 2011 at 01:11

    Thanks for sharing! Guess a lot of pple around us would have thought – anything other than a proper and clean “X” will be considered invalid.

  35. 68 DD 9 May 2011 at 01:16

    Thanks for sharing this so clearly. I hope many more Singaporean friends of mine will benefit from this in the future. Really didn’t know bad remarks can be counted as valid vote. Karma does bite sometimes 😀

  36. 69 agneschia 9 May 2011 at 01:19

    by the way, there is also another case which is real. A voter crossed two crosses, one cross into each box. then the final decision was that the box with the bigger cross will be taken into account as the voter having cast the vote for that box (party). watch this video too:

    the thing is, differnt counting centres with different table chiefs will make different types of decisions so it can be rather subjective. i attribute it to how loose the Parlimentary Elections Act (Chpt 218) has described how a valid vote should be. it should not be that loosely defined.

  37. 70 Tan Tai Wei 9 May 2011 at 01:22

    Obviously, 1)all table chiefs should go by same guidelines , and 2) the guidelines should apply commonsense (eg, a cross for one, while a tick for the other is clearly undecisive, therefore, spoilt vote; a cross for one but going a little beyond the space as illustrated by you is surely valid; those others with such comments as “go to hell” are surely anti-votes, but, since they do not necessarily mean votes for the other candidate, should be rejected as spoilt. Dots and dubious marks here and there that can be interpreted all sorts of ways surely spoil the ballot.

    The election department should educate their counters, or at least train them more sensibly and uniformly!

  38. 71 Jason Tan 9 May 2011 at 01:24

    I totally agree with you. It in act, it clearly stated that ANY MARK that signals the intention of the voter under the decision of the Returning Officer. If he is satisfied, then it is a vote, if not, it is invalid vote.

    PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS ACT, Section 50, Paragraph 2

    (2) Where the Returning Officer is satisfied that any mark made on a ballot paper clearly indicates the intention of the voter and the candidate or group of candidates for whom he gives his vote, the Returning Officer shall not reject the ballot paper on the ground solely that it has not been marked in all respects in accordance with the directions given for the guidance of voters under this Act.

  39. 72 misterLTS 9 May 2011 at 01:32

    Very informative. Thank you for drawing out all the different kind of votes. Love example 10

  40. 73 Ting 9 May 2011 at 01:46

    Thank you so much for this. In another words, its not necessary to mark a cross on the preferred party. I will disseminate this information to my friends so as to remind them not to fall into No. 10 & 11.

    • 74 yawningbread 9 May 2011 at 14:03

      No, no. the correct message to disseminate is to mark a cross, and only a cross within the boundaries of the box. This is the only mark that is specified in law.

      Any other mark may trigger a judgement call, which opens the ballot up to unpredictable consequences.

  41. 75 whatu1 9 May 2011 at 01:47

    well said! please spread this message across as many people think examples 4, 10 & 11 are the best way to voice out their frustration, it is not!

    Be learned and teach others not to do like so as what is unknown to them, will in turn come back to haunt them!

    Imagine if there are 58 ballot papers like examples 4, 10 and 11 in the Potong Pasir SMC. Consider if the voters had properly voted for the actual party of choice, that will translate to a swing of 116 numbers and there would not have been any changes in MP to be made.

    • 76 Pat 10 May 2011 at 12:58

      Wish all these were done BEFORE polling day. People must be made aware that eg #4, 10, 11 will have the opposite effect. How many votes have some party has got, that it didn’t deserve?

  42. 77 Chr 9 May 2011 at 01:49

    The ” go to hell” is funny. Is it exactly what was written? In that case that vote should not be given to that party where it was written right, since the voter was condemning it.

  43. 78 Eudaemon 9 May 2011 at 01:51

    4 and 12 should probably be spoilt votes. I remember reading a vote is only valid if the marking is clear for a particular party. Many counting staff (including table chiefs) are public servants possibly doing the role for the first time due to the unexpected scale of this GE. While they have all underwent training, not everyone might have understood/interpreted the rules the same. I’m guessing would-be counting agents probably had a similar briefing, otherwise they won’t be of much use for disputes. I want to add though that a significant number of voters are aged (weaker hands, long-sighted, failing eyesight etc), and I would assume 3 and 12 to be pretty common. Treating 3 as a spoilt vote based on the rules is correct but still quite harsh I felt, since the marking and intention is pretty clear. Seriously, maybe ELD should provide stencils or just make the box area markable.

    My impression of the box rule was that the marking had to be registered within the box on the right-hand side beside the party logo. As there is a black outline border surrounding that area on the actual ballot paper (unlike pictured above), and with a smaller grey box within it (presumably to help voters ‘aim’ their marking). So I had thought 6-11 would have been spoilt votes too?

    Interestingly, the number of counting agents at each counting place allowed seems to have increased. That is probably better as more eyes is good, and adds to the transparency of the process.

  44. 79 Bernard 9 May 2011 at 01:53

    I especially love the graphics. Thank you for this insider’s info. What’s disconcerting, however, is that there doesn’t seem to be a consensus on how to deal with rare, extreme cases, as you’ve noted. Is there something that you might be able to do, maybe in suggesting feedback to the elections department, so that all Table Chiefs make the same judgment calls?

  45. 80 Angie 9 May 2011 at 02:03

    Thank you for the article, very informative and interesting indeed. I always thought that anything other than a cross would void the vote. The government really ought to show a little clip on TV before every election to educate people on this.

  46. 81 Sad case 9 May 2011 at 02:06

    This is a serious matter that most of us do not know. Many could have intentionally want to spoil their votes but these are instead counted against the intentions of these voters. Hence, some candidates may not deserve their percentage of winning and for close fights, the actual results may be different! This issue is of national importance and all voters must know!

  47. 82 Belmont Lay 9 May 2011 at 02:18

    And I thought the Oath of Secrecy taken by counting agents was meant to prevent counting agents who witnessed the way things work from openly describing the process of counting votes and the on-goings at the counting centre.

    Oh well… I guess if it is ok for you Alex to talk about it, it is ok for me to talk about it too!

  48. 83 ape 9 May 2011 at 02:22

    The case about “go to hell” is not new. I think Steve Chia talked about this before and added something like helpless about it since he had agreed beforehand with his competitor that anything in the box goes to that person.

  49. 84 reservist_cpl 9 May 2011 at 02:26

    Hi Alex

    Just wanted to tell you that the rules in this article are not applied by every ARO i.e. table chief (though certainly the AROs are fair in the sense that they decide consistently).

    Some markings like O and Go to Hell may be treated as spoilt. Sometimes, crosses which cross the boundary line are accepted if the cross is mostly within one of the boxes.

  50. 85 wavier 9 May 2011 at 02:26

    Hi Alex,

    Thanks for providing/sharing your experience in this.
    I think people of Singapore should understand and know more of the procedures of counting…

    Your experience made me wonder, how come in this election we have may spoilt votes. It seems that only possible way to spoil votes is to write across the boundary lines slightly. (example 3)

    I’m abit concerned about the treatment of example 4, and rightfully it should be considered as a spoilt vote if the voter have written on 2 boxes.

    • 86 haha 9 May 2011 at 15:16

      The best way to void is to leave the ballot slip blank. You can also draw diagrams/words/pictures in the two boxes. Make sure both boxes contain the same diagrams/words/pictures and they must also be around the same size.

      Although not voiding your votes is the best way of avoiding such situations.

  51. 87 reservist_cpl 9 May 2011 at 02:29

    And also, a fair bit depends on how vigorously the counting agent argues for the vote.

  52. 88 Ah Lian 9 May 2011 at 02:53

    I helped out as polling agent for SPP and traded notes with some other polling agents, and I realised that the practices might not be quite standard.

    In my case, I was informed that in the morning, one of SPP PA went to toilet (which was still in the centre) and was not allowed back to her seat, so I made sure to ask what happens if I needed to to go to the loo. My RO was quite nice and said sure, it’s just over there. Can I come back to the booth when I’m done? Sure, she said, without batting an eyelid.

    But when I needed to make an urgent call, I was directed out of the polling centre with the instruction to sign another oath of secrecy when I came back to the booth (there were 8 booths in that polling centre).

    But of course I realized after exiting the polling centre and making my call, that to get to the RO (who was quite far away), I first needed to get past the police at the main entry point. Luckily I kept my polling card after I voted in the morning, and I showed it to the police to gain entry into the school. Had I thrown away my polling card after voting, or had I volunteered to be a PA at another voting centre, I would not have been able to get back into the school to sign another oath of secrecy with the RO. I would have ended my stint earlier than intended.

    The thing is I think all Presiding Officers at the centres are doing a wonderful job (I witnessed their non-stop efficiency), but because this event happens once only every 5 years, some of the smaller details get lost and being Singaporeans, we err on the side of caution too much, accidentally causing some polling agents to be unable to get back to their duty.

    As for the list that Paul mentioned, ironically, SPP prepared a booklet with the serials numbers and names et al of all the voters assigned to each centre for their PAs to check against what’s being read out, but my PAP counterparts had none (same scenario with lunch).

    Some other finer details I feel are not very well ironed out between the election department and the parties, or maybe there is still room for misunderstanding. e.g. At the polling centre, there were 2 rows of voting booths, with 4 booths to a row. I was the only SPP PA at one row of 4 voting booths (with 4 corresponding ballot boxes). I was told by SPP that I should witness the sealing of all 4 boxes, and counter-seal all 4, but was told firmly by PO that I can only witness and counter-seal the box at my booth. By then, it was too late to exit the polling centre to call HQ for confirmation.

  53. 89 xfphang 9 May 2011 at 03:31

    Hi sir, thank you very much for this informative article.

    I was directed here after following up on a read on a movement that is calling for a petition in potong pasir (

    After reading through the relevant sections under the Parliamentary Elections Act (Chapter 218), would it be right to conclude that the examples 4,8,9,10,11 & 12 given here should be void instead, as opposed to the blanket rule applied that “so long as the single marking stayed within one box, it’s accepted as a valid vote”?

    Can someone enlighten me if my understanding below is correct?

    The reason why votes other than in example 1 was acceptable, even though the instructions in the TV ads explicitly stated to mark an X only, was because of the clause that reads “Where the Returning Officer is satisfied that any mark made on a ballot paper clearly indicates the intention of the voter and the candidate or group of candidates for whom he gives his vote, the Returning Officer shall not reject the ballot paper on the ground solely that it has not been marked in all respects in accordance with the directions given for the guidance of voters under this Act” (Section 50 “Votes to be Rejected”, (2)). So in this case, it’s understandable that in examples 2,5,6,7 & 9 the intention is clear on what the voter in those votes want to vote for.

    As to why an “X” instead of anything else, the directions under the Second Schedule “DIRECTIONS FOR GUIDANCE OF VOTERS IN VOTING” states “The voter will go into the place reserved for the marking of ballot papers and mark a cross in the space provided for the purpose on the right hand side of the ballot paper opposite the name of the candidate or, if the electoral division is a group representation constituency, the names of the group of candidates, for which he votes, thus, X.”

    & now the crux of my issue. Under the Act, there are 5 stated conditions which the Returning Officer would invalidate a ballot paper, & one of which is “void for uncertainty” (Section 50 “Votes to be Rejected”, (1), (e)). Now, having understood that a mark other than a “X” is acceptable on the basis that the Returning Officer is satisfied that intention of these voter is clear in their ballot paper (i.e. examples 1,2,5,6,7 & 9), there is no provision that “so long as the single marking stayed within one box, it’s accepted as a valid vote”, which means examples 4,8,9,10,11 & 12 given here should be void instead, on the basis under “void for uncertainty”, isn’t it?

    I think this is of importance, especially in constituencies where the win is very marginal, with some even less than a 1000 votes difference. So if basing on the account of the counting process depicted here, i think there are serious implications as to how the voting centre had determined valid and invalid ballot papers?

  54. 90 Elizabeth 9 May 2011 at 03:39

    “The table chief’s reasoning was that by law, the voter should mark his intention with a cross and since the cross was placed against the “triangle and star” party, the vote was given to it.”

    I don’t think this is correct? There is a legal bit to this stating that any mark, as long as it is clearly defined and distinctly shows the voter’s intention is accepted. So even if I drew a turtle it should be accepted as long as the turtle was drawn within the boundaries of a party’s box.

  55. 91 dgf6929 9 May 2011 at 03:45

    Informative article. But I still do not know how the votes are tallied. How do the counting staff tally each and every vote, via a computerized machine? By talling on a computer programme? After noting the choice of the voter how does the counting agent add that choice to Candidate A votes or Candidate B votes total? Still very unsure how it works.

  56. 92 two cents thought 9 May 2011 at 04:01

    I heard of a volunteer who saw an old man, whom intention was to “reject” PartyA, crossed out PartyA, walked out chanting support for the opposite party. i was very much appalled as i was also told that alot of people have no clue of how to vote. and from this article, i think that 1)there must be clear instructions before polling starts 2)law needs to cover loopholes like 3, 4, 10 and 12. this will ensure, i wouldn’t say perfect, but a fairer demoractic system.

  57. 93 surreyian 9 May 2011 at 05:00

    i didnt vote this year, cause missed the dateline for overseas voters registion, but have been keeping a close tab on the elections online. thanks for the insight, it is really interesting to know that we singaporean are so creative in casting a vote.

  58. 94 taley 9 May 2011 at 06:03

    This is a really interesting and informative read, thanks for sharing! I LOL-ed so hard at the “go to hell” and heart shaped vote example.

  59. 95 Jj 9 May 2011 at 06:43

    First of all, i thought u took an oath on secrecy?
    but thanks anyway for this… Well if this is true, then it isnt fair…

  60. 96 lex 9 May 2011 at 07:42

    as they say, the democracy is in the counting of the votes and not the voting

  61. 97 xtrocious 9 May 2011 at 07:51

    Can’t believe some people actually scored very crucial own goals…sigh

    The overall results were disappointing to say the least…

    I hope it’s not another five more years for all of Singapore to repent 😦

  62. 98 Lim 9 May 2011 at 08:23

    I read that the X is valid if the intersection falls clearly in one of the boxes.. Even if the tail sneaks out to another

  63. 99 Anonymous 9 May 2011 at 08:38

    A Fun & Interesting Morning Read While On My Way To Sch,It Show Hw We Actually Do Wit Our Votin Ballot~Classic Like “Go To Hell” & “Cost Of Livin Up(Arrow Form)~Read To Understand~HeHe~

  64. 100 edmundtan 9 May 2011 at 08:51

    I think Singaporean voters interpret the rules too narrowly whereas there’s a wider latitude given to how the counting officers should interpret the voter’s choice.

    Most voters think that anything other than a X would be considered void, whereas counting staff, we know that a mark is a mark, and we’ll interpret it as indicative of voter’s choice.

    This is what we may observe from Example 10 and 11.

  65. 101 anony 9 May 2011 at 08:52

    OMG! Example 10 was hilarious! Suffered a belly ache from laughing.

    Now I know its not a myth that many netizens have pointed out that those who write derogatory messages on that party’s box will be counted as a valid vote!

    Thank you very much Alex for this amazing piece of personal insight as a counting agent.

  66. 102 Omg 9 May 2011 at 08:58

    I noticed a tiny pen mark on the top of my voting slip near the name of PAP candidates while I marked the opposition… It was there before I even touch the ticket… I guess my vote is invalid?

  67. 103 edmundtan 9 May 2011 at 08:58

    Oh I just wanted to add that Example 3 is very rare. I think I only saw 1 from my counting table of nearly 3k votes. And on my table, it was interpreted as voting for “Triangle and Star”, based on “It’s more to the Triangle and Star than Dancing Man.”

    From the same table, I saw about 3-4 of Example 4, of which all seemed to favour the opposition party, i.e., ticking in their box and crossing the incumbent. These were not considered valid, and rejected.

    In any case, these small numbers wouldn’t make much difference in the overall situation over at my station.

  68. 104 Eveline 9 May 2011 at 09:00

    I was both a Polling and Counting Agent for NSP. For No. (3), the Assistant Returning Officer (ARO) or Table Chief would accept it as a valid vote for Triangle&Star. No. (11) would constitute a spoilt vote. No. (12) is very ambiguous and I did not come across such cases.

    It would depend very much on the ARO and the Counting Agent. Some AROs can be very officious and dismissive and stamp REJECTED without consulting the Counting Agents. This is against the Parliamentary Elections Act. From the onset, I made my presence felt and fortunately for me, my ARO was also very reasonable. There were one or two decisions that I disagreed with, and I stated so clearly (but respectfully).

    The ARO at the next table was bulldozing through the pile of ballot sheets with neither Counting Agent having a chance at interjecting.

    In any case, most of the spoiled votes were clearly marked to be spoiled. The ambiguous cases were very few. In large GRCs they wouldn’t make a difference, but in SMCs like Potong Pasir they might.

    • 105 valligant 9 May 2011 at 19:10

      Alex, this is a great post and I’m using this to help educate people around me. Thank you so much/

      It certainly has great implications for Potong Pasir – and not just in the 242 that were considered spoilt, but in the margin of 78 votes that were credited to the PAP instead of SPP.

      It is appalling how something of such great national importance be so arbitrary.

      Everyone knows it’s a long shot but yet are making personal trips to Potong Pasir to pen their sincere support for the petition. I really hope a recount is granted and not just the reopening of spoilt votes, but to ascertain the nature of all votes cast.

      Some tweeps say those asking for a by-election (technically I think they hope for an independent/balanced recount rather than by-election) are sore losers, but one thing I feel needs to made clear, also articulated by tweeps: The Chiams didn’t lose Potong Pasir, Potong Pasir lost the Chiams and that’s what they are grieving for and wanting to get back.

  69. 106 Eveline 9 May 2011 at 09:09

    Polling and Counting Agents need to assert their presence. Perhaps there was too little time for briefing as a lot of volunteer sign-ups were done very last minute. The Agents have the right to question why certain things are done in a certain manner. For instance, at the Polling Centre, I questioned how voters with dementia would be treated. The rule is that the Assistant Presiding Officers cannot help any voter mark the votes unless the voter is physically unable to (e.g. blind, no hands). Even if the voter is confused, intellectually disabled, don’t know how to handle a pen, or unable to make up their minds, the APOs cannot give suggestions or mark for them.

    Family members also cannot influence the voter. The APOs have to separate the family members so that the voter will not be disturbed.

    I kept a close watch on the APOs’ actions and they were aware that they were being watched, and thus behaved.

    Even the candidate had to behave when he realised that there was a Counting Agent on site. He was not supposed to communicate with the voters. The candidate at my centre was about to when he spotted me watching him.

    Unless the Polling Agents were properly briefed, they will not know that they are supposed to do these things and have the right to request that things are done in a certain way. The Polling Agents at my own Polling Centre (SDP) were rather passive. Then again it was during a quiet period so they were perhaps just resting.

    I could only work 6 hours and there was no replacement after my shift ended. So nobody was supervising polling after that. This is unfortunate. The Polling Centre should be manned throughout polling. You do not need so many Polling Agents; one per Polling Centre is sufficient but the Polling Centre should be manned at all times. I hope we will have more volunteers at the next GE.

  70. 107 Iman 9 May 2011 at 09:12


    I was a counting agent too. In my area the counting chief accepted negative comments in a party box as NOT in favor of the party the words are against and awarded it to the party where there were no words.counting chief justified the vote as the voters intention can be understood and is clear.

    For votes with a cross and a tick in either box, such voted were rejected as voter intention is not clear.

    There was only two instance I objected.

    1) cross was abit out of the boxand was rejected
    2) numbers were indicated in a box , not 1 or 0, and it was accepted as a positive vote

  71. 108 Su Ling 9 May 2011 at 09:44

    insightful, hilarious. Thanks for a good laugh.

  72. 109 Alan Wong 9 May 2011 at 10:02

    Thanks for the info especially on the part explaining what constitute a rejected vote.

    But I am curious as to whether the Elections Commission has all the examples as what you have illustrated clarifying what is considered acceptable or not in black and white, rather than leaving it to the subject opinion of the table chief to decide ?

    Sometimes it can be a matter of Heaven (no repentance required) or Hell (the Emperor has dictated that one must spend 5 years to repent) when comes to a majority of one vote !

  73. 110 LinYu 9 May 2011 at 10:03

    10 is a vaild vote? It clearly state that the voter ws pissed off at the triangular party. It give it to the triangular party is beyond me.

  74. 111 JC 9 May 2011 at 10:08

    i know no 3 is supposed to be valid? i read that the vote goes to the party the intersection of the cross lands on

  75. 112 samwize 9 May 2011 at 10:11

    All voters should read this, on next GE!

  76. 114 9 May 2011 at 10:21

    Thanks for taking the trouble to inform complete with illustrations! Excellent job! On the question of overseas vote, while they may know that there are so many voters from a particular constituency, surely all votes must count towards calculating the percentage of votes amongst the parties involved. According to the MFA website, all overseas votes MUST be counted and posted on the Government Gazette within 10 days of poliing day. Do you know if this will be done and can the public access the Government Gazette online to check if indeed the overall percentage amongst parties will be amnded accordingly. I have checked out a Singapore Government Gazette website at but not sure if the overseas votes will be publised there. Once again, thanks again for your time and trouble.

  77. 115 Guest 9 May 2011 at 10:30

    U said u took a secrecy oath and then now u blogged about the entire thing?!

    • 116 yawningbread 9 May 2011 at 13:21

      The secrecy oath is confined to article 56 of the Parliamentary Elections Act which basically says that we should do nothing to aid in the abuse of the voting process by communicating with the voter or relaying out to the public any details of any specific vote, etc. Look at each line of the law and ask yourself: Did I violate that sentence in the law with my article — yes/no?

      Subsection (3) Subject to subsection (3A), every officer, clerk, interpreter, candidate and agent in attendance at a polling station shall maintain, and aid in maintaining, the secrecy of the voting in the station, and shall not communicate, except for some purpose authorised by law, before the poll is closed, to any person any information as to the name or number on the register of electors of any elector who has or has not applied for a ballot paper or voted at that station, or as to the official mark.

      (3A) The total number of voters who have voted at any station at any time before the poll is closed may, in the discretion of the presiding officer, be divulged to the candidate or his agent authorised to attend at the polling station.

      (4) No such officer, clerk, interpreter, candidate or agent, and no person shall —

      (a) attempt to obtain in the polling station information as to the candidate or group of candidates, for whom any voter in the station is about to vote or has voted; or

      (b) communicate at any time to any person any information obtained in a polling station as to the candidate or group of candidates, for whom any voter in the station is about to vote or has voted, or as to the number on the back of the ballot paper given to any voter at the station.

      (5) Every officer, clerk, interpreter, candidate and agent in attendance at the counting of the votes shall maintain, and aid in maintaining, the secrecy of the voting, and shall not —

      (a) attempt to ascertain at the counting the number on the back of any ballot paper; or

      (b) communicate any information obtained at the counting as to the candidate or group of candidates, for whom any vote is given by any particular ballot paper.

      (6) No person, except a presiding officer acting for a purpose authorised by this Act or a person authorised by the presiding officer and acting for that purpose, shall communicate or attempt to communicate with any voter after the voter has received a ballot paper and before he has placed it in a ballot box, or after the voter has been authorised to use an approved DRE voting machine to mark or record his vote and before he marks or records his vote at the machine, as the case may be.


      • 117 A Rahim M 10 May 2011 at 11:51

        Definitely you are not violating the law. Anyway it is for the good of all voters

  78. 118 TaZZiE 9 May 2011 at 10:40

    AUTOCRATS! ignts. doublestandards. say so much also no use, our voices are just noises.

  79. 119 Murli 9 May 2011 at 10:40

    Hi Alex,

    Thanks for the post. I was a WP polling agent and noted down some observations that I intended to blog. Wasn’t sure if it was against the law to do so but now I will. Nothing linking individual voters and their votes, of course. More like observations on the set-up of the centre I was at, the demographics of the ward I was in, etc.

    BTW, WP did not have enough polling agents. I was told by the coordinator that I needed to come in at 7.45am but could leave after 3pm if I wanted to. There wouldn’t be anyone replacing me. I chose to leave at about 3.45pm instead and came back around 6.30pm. Two of the other polling agents did the same but there were three empty seats at other booths. The PAP had agents sitting all the way through in shifts. I didn’t see them use any of the intimidating tactics that Paul describes above.

    WP DID have more than enough counting agents. I was asked to be a backup but didn’t have to show up in the end.


  80. 120 9 May 2011 at 10:42

    Darn…I have putting F#$$%K on the PAP box all these years. Didn’t realize I was giving them my vote. Maybe they already knew there are thousands of idiots like me.

  81. 121 fred 9 May 2011 at 10:56

    Hi. Thanks for this. This has really opened our eyes to the whole counting process. I was one of those volunteers who were turned away at the door cos the maximum quota was reached. I was glad tho as I was dead tired from being a Polling Agent that day. I think No. 4’s message is clear tho unfortunately, the vote went to the other party. Many seniors and disabled pple who clearly have not the mental nor physical capacity had to vote too, that could explain the dotted markings ones. After volunteering and witnessing the voting process. I really have to say I don’t know how fair this is. Most voters are only told to mark their vote with a cross but cross against what, most still didn’t know.

  82. 122 Pei Ling 9 May 2011 at 11:32

    I have also encountered a scenario where 2 tables had obviously 45% for party a, and 1 table had obviously 20%. The rest had about 35%. So it seems they set the boundaries so the high rankers are paired with the low rankers.

  83. 123 Cherry Chibaboom 9 May 2011 at 11:49

    Wow, thanks for the insight! I was kind of worried that my vote would be invalid/spoilt cos some people were saying that you should only mark a cross in the grey box, and not go into the white border. But after reading your entry, I’m glad that my vote still counted cos it didn’t exceed the border into the other party’s box. phew.

  84. 124 mayrulersberighteous 9 May 2011 at 11:53

    It would be very intersting if the Singapore Election Department can publish the vote count of each MP within each GRC. I bet my last dollar that several of the PAP MPs within the GRCs would have obtained less than 50% popular votes which means that if they had stood as single member, they would have lost. This is especially true in GRC that has the PAP less than 60% popular votes.

    • 125 yawningbread 9 May 2011 at 13:07

      You’re not a voter are you? If you were you’d know that voters do not vote for any specific individual in a GRC team.

      • 126 9 May 2011 at 13:27

        yes though we wouldn’t know the % tied to any specific MP but we would know the support for the party specific in each constituent ward in the GRC.

        this might be a proxy in gauging the possible result if the ward had been a SMC, i think it’s actually a good way of letting voters know the level of support of the constituent wards comprising the GRC.

    • 127 Election Party 9 May 2011 at 20:03

      The box indicates the GRC party as a group and therefore it is impossible to know the percentage of each candidates!!!!

      Think again, if I cross 3 from one party and another 2 from another party because I think these 5 from both parties are better candidates, how do we now reconcile this?

      GRC is like a package deal eg If you vote Goh Chok Tong, Tin Pei Ling comes with it whether you like her or not, understand?

  85. 128 spaiduhz 9 May 2011 at 12:01

    Oh gosh, this is funny. Terrifying, but funny.

  86. 129 Concerned Citizen 9 May 2011 at 12:22

    I’m really very surprised those votes counted. I truly am. I always thought anything other than an X within the box would be deemed a spoilt vote? That’s what all the literature distributed about voting seemed to imply?

    Am I the only one who’s concerned about this? I can see how many people may have inadvertently voted when their intention was to spoilt their vote. This obviously would have affected results. In Potong Pasir, where the counts were so close, this would certainly be a major issue.

    What exactly does the law say about this? Is there a law in the first place?

  87. 130 solecurious 9 May 2011 at 12:28

    Thanks Alex for clarifying. Someone told me about the “Go to Hell” example. I used to be skeptical. Like you, I assumed that was sending a clear negative message to the party… agree this is not the place to be creative.

  88. 131 anonymous 9 May 2011 at 12:45

    Alex, a digression. Perhaps in a separate blog you can address the impact of the new-foreign citizen voting block in GE 2011 and future elections.

    • 132 yawningbread 9 May 2011 at 13:04

      Sorry, not interested in doing that. 1. no data available. 2. those interested in this topic tend to want justification for xenophobia and I have no wish to feed this monster.

  89. 133 jean 9 May 2011 at 12:52

    hello Alex,

    Just out of curiousity then, what would constitute a spoilt or null vote? Since nearly every marking is considered acceptable? Does it only occur when the voter puts a blank voting slip into the box?

  90. 134 w 9 May 2011 at 13:01

    I was a counting agent. Differences in standards:

    Any scribble or mark that was non-offensive was a valid vote. A 0 was deemed as awarding zero marks to the party it was marked on, the vote went to the other candidate.

    A mark largely within one box but straying slightly into another did not prevent its validity, as “intention was clear.”

    With reference to the PE Act S50 ss2, my above observations appear to be the correct pronouncements:

    (2) Where the Returning Officer is satisfied that any mark made on a ballot paper clearly indicates the intention of the voter and the candidate or group of candidates for whom he gives his vote, the Returning Officer shall not reject the ballot paper on the ground solely that it has not been marked in all respects in accordance with the directions given for the guidance of voters under this Act.

  91. 136 Russell H.K. Heng 9 May 2011 at 13:03

    Hi Alex,

    You know I also volunteered to be counting agent for SDP after receiving your sms.

    I agree with you that people doing the counting are fair. But I had one unhappy experience with my table chief at the Evergreen Sec School counting centre (Sembawang GRC).

    Like you I was fascinated to learn that any marking that lands on a contestant square would count as a vote for that party, never mind if the marking is faint or distorted or some funny remark.

    I had no problem with this way of treating votes so long as this yardstick was consistently applied. Then came one vote where a funny mark (not the usual cross) was made safely within the SDP square on the ballot. The table chief actually wanted to declare it invalid. I had to remonstrate very strongly that this was inconsistent with her ruling in favour of PAP when similar votes were encountered. The PAP counting agent probably also felt that the case was patently in my favour, and kept quiet.

    Finally she did relent and gave the vote to SDP. I think she
    was playing games with me because I had asked her some tough questions during my watch and it pissed her off. That way, she could say in the event of any dispute end of the evening that she had been reasonable and had on one occasion even gave in to my challenge.

    For the record, the PAP counting agents outnumbered by us (5 to 12) got along fine with us. When the results started to stream in, we sometimes exchanged info on the tweets we were getting in the most natural goodnatured way.

    My thoughts after this experience and also my stint as WP polling agent in 2006 election: The procedures need more clarity particularly what to do when a dispute arises. The staff from the Elections Department are usually polite but get stoney faced when you ask questions that they don’t have ready answers to except to say “The final decision rests with me.”. When asked “How can I appeal against that or get more information?”, the answer would be “You can’t”.

    It’s just like the black box we never get to look into on how our electoral boundaries are redrawn for each election. We usually let this important issue rest once the excitement of the election is over. I hope WP and other parties plus civil society should keep it alive every week and months till the transparency is improved for the next GE.


    • 137 Winterfrostz 9 May 2011 at 22:34

      I would like to check if you saw any ballot papers which are of a different colour (blue or green)? Are these votes counted as well?

  92. 138 RedHill 9 May 2011 at 13:06

    Thanks for the good account. I actually read it with horror that such ‘funny’ votes are accepted!

    Now I seriously wonder how will the election result turn out if all these ‘funny’ votes are considered spoilt and only accept those with the ‘X’ marked correctly as per official sample!

    Anyone knows if there is any official constitutional law that defines what is an ‘acceptable’ vote? It seems ‘masak masak’ that the decision lies with an individual (i.e. the Table Chief) and it bears great ambiguities across the whole counting process.

    I also find it strange that the political parties are ‘ok’ with these ‘funny’ votes.

    For now, i can only implore to fellow Singaporeans not to be ‘creative’ on their voting slips! Just mark ‘X’ for GE2016!!


    • 139 Eveline 9 May 2011 at 17:06

      Parties are not always “okay” with these votes but the Counting Agents can only object. The final decision rests with the Assistant Returning Officer (ARO) not the Counting Agents.

      The key guideline is that the intent of the voter must be clear. There are no specific examples cited in the Parliamentary Elections Act so each ARO has to exercise his or her discretion. However, all AROs have undergone training so they do work with guidelines. In any case, some votes are clearly void and the ambiguous ones are few and far between.

  93. 140 Tjin 9 May 2011 at 13:47

    Dang, to think I was considering spoiling my vote in a creative fashion as well! Okay, will know what not to do when should I decide to spoil my vote next round

  94. 141 bbmoon 9 May 2011 at 13:47

    This article should make known to all voters prior the next GE , so the voters won’t anyhow void votes thinking they are void but actually helping another party …

  95. 142 Anon 9 May 2011 at 14:27

    Interesting insight into the vote counting process. I too thought that only a clearly marked X is accepted.

    Just a thought: Why not design the voting card like our parking coupon? You tear off the tab to indicate the party you vote for. A valid vote is one with only one detached tab. No ambiguity whatsoever.

    • 143 Mirax 9 May 2011 at 21:20

      Oh dear, you dont remember the hanging chards controversy in Florida in the US presidential elections in 2000?

  96. 144 whatu1 9 May 2011 at 14:28

    At the end of the day, what counts on Polling Day is what the Chief says on the table. Just like a referee in a soccer game, his decision is final. Line calls? Should be or Shouldn’t be? What if? Why give these Table Chief an opportunity to “cast” their decision “as they see fit”?

    Players or polling agents have no authority as to make changes in decision. They can “appeal” or “have a word with the referee”. But whatever the decision, players have to accept the decision.

    So how best to avoid such issues? Don’t give referees the chance to make judgement calls. If the grounds not sweet, “Go to hell” or any other remarks can be judged as a vote for that party. If the grounds were sweet, these votes may have been counted as Spoil votes.

    Politics is made up by the people for the people. Educate voters the correct way of voting and the consequences otherwise. An old Hokkien saying “Kiang toh ho, mai keh kiang”, literally be smart, not be a smartaleck. There is no point to pull hand brakes once the car hit the wall.

  97. 145 lamdana 9 May 2011 at 14:32

    Given Section 50: 2 on clear intentions, you would think that any thinking person would first have a briefing of all the counting persons to ensure that interpretations are standardised? It’s not so difficult to have everyone on the same plate!

  98. 146 Randall 9 May 2011 at 14:35

    At some point we should maybe switch to using voting machines i.e. standalone PCs with a simple screen listing the choices with check-boxes against each one. When you click on a box the attached printer prints the mark against your voter card and you can check the card before depositing. Note that I’m not suggesting the use of the machine to tally votes, just to imprint the voting marks, which the voter can check like any handwritten annotation.

    And yes I realize this may not be feasible as yet for everyone because senior citizens may not be attuned to using a computer.

  99. 147 lamdana 9 May 2011 at 14:37

    Now that we know the lapses, should we jointly write (those who were counting agents) to the Elections Dept

    1) simply to register our concern and make them aware (giving them the benefit of the doubt here) of the discrepancies?

    2) Ask for islandwide recount?!!!!

  100. 149 Rabbit 9 May 2011 at 14:39

    This article is very educational. It is only ethical to make it known to the public to avoid future creative markings. Frankly, I see this information a service to the voters and election department. It will be good if opposition parties have them put up in their website to serve as reference guide for their supporters.

  101. 150 9 May 2011 at 15:15

    I am really surprise that as citizen we are not informed about these.I always had the impression that it has to be a X and any other marking is consider invalid. It kind of sad to note that the Table Chief who by the way is a Civil servant should make the final call. Now think of it, being a Civil servant where would his/her favour will go to?.
    Thanks for sharing this validable inform with us.

  102. 151 Rajiv Chaudhry 9 May 2011 at 17:17

    You left out a crucial point with regard to the counting process. Mr Low Thia Khiang highlighted it in his rally speech on 5 May.

    The voting slips from the various polling centres that are brought in are not mixed but are counted separately at the counting place, centre by centre. Each centre is allocated one counting table. This allows the PAP to know exactly how each precinct, comprising some 20 or so HDB blocks, voted. This information is used both to plan upgrading programmes and gerrymander boundaries at the next election. It is yet another example of how the PAP has fiddled the constitution to derive an advantage for itself.

    Incidentally, section 50(2) of the Parliamentary Elections Act allows a voter to mark the ballot paper in any manner she pleases and not necessarily as provided in the “Guidance to Voters” (ie with an X). So long as she shows a clear choice, it is not a spoilt vote. Going by this, example 3 above is a clear choice for the “triangle and star” party (the intersection of the cross is within the box). In example 10 the intention of the voter does not appear to be to vote for the same party and the ballot should, in my view, be rejected, also in example 11 (but of course, the decision of the counting officer is final and brooks no challenge).

  103. 152 A Different Paul 9 May 2011 at 17:55

    Just wondering what the error rate was like. Were the doubtful votes about 1%, 2%, 5% of the total?

  104. 153 Emerald 9 May 2011 at 18:30

    Hi Alex,

    Like Peiying said, there was a party in my house early Sunday morning. My dad woke the estate by going to the balcony and letting out a celebratory bellow towards the heavens when they announced Aljunied. Pity about Joo Chiat though.

    Shouldn’t they examine the intention behind the marking? Number 4, 10 and 11 all look like they were clearly intended to be spoilt!

  105. 154 Jen 9 May 2011 at 18:33

    I will think that its logical to reject no4 and accept no3. because no4 the requirement is to cross. now how do we know which one the voter want to cast the vote for?

    i think that more must be done to educate people that from the next election, u must vote with a cross. Any other votes will be deem void. This insight of how votes r being counted will not help in the situation… it will be a vicious cycle

  106. 155 Paul 2 9 May 2011 at 19:22

    Concerns over consistency in the way the markings on a ballot are interpreted are a reason to consider an electronic means of counting. That way, the designers of the system will have to be more explicit in detailing the criteria for interpreting different kinds of markings on a ballot, all ballots would be counted in the same way according to those criteria, and the possibility of a counting staff’s judgment being swayed by partisan sentiment wouldn’t come up.

    Anyhow, on a different question, why is it that so many Singaporeans know how to mark their 4D and Toto slips but not their ballot papers?????

  107. 156 blackwatertown 9 May 2011 at 20:15

    Interesting post.
    I wonder if the “Go To Hell” voter is now kicking him (or her) self?

  108. 157 Teoh 9 May 2011 at 20:17

    The flexibilities currently afforded by the counting process are undesirable because they give rise to inconsistencies. I can live with inconsistencies that cancel out each other and result in net zero bias. But there is no reason to believe that this is so in our case. For a start, if we don’t even know how many #11s and how many #12s there are, how can we assume that they are mutually-cancelling in numbers? Furthermore, the inconsistent judgements of table chiefs throw on yet another layer of potential bias. I find it disturbing that our counting system has such potential for bias.

    The opposition would find it especially disconcerting when there seems to be an overwhelming number of anecdotes of anti-PAP voters unwittingly voting in favour of PAP, compared to the other way round. (And here I digress on a conspiracy theory: Maybe PAP knows this, and this is why they are happy for the counting process to retain its current capacity for inconsistencies. A related conspiracy theory is that this explains why the PAP is happy to continue making people think that voting is “more compulsory” than it really is.)

    Anyway, I don’t see why there’s a need for the counting process to put up with such potential for bias. Justice is best served by transparency and consistency. (Heck, the opposition is probably also best served by transparency and consistency.) To this end, I think the law should be amended so that all votes apart from #1 and #3 are rejected. If there is any reason to believe that the voter is trying to spoil his vote, then let his vote be spoiled. After all, a voter who can’t even obey simple instructions of democratic process doesn’t deserve to be counted in a democracy.

    What could be the outcome? Perhaps for the next few elections, we may have an unprecedented number of rejected votes, and this may persist until such time where voters become politically mature and learn that they need to abide by instructions if they want to be counted. But more importantly, until then, we will be able to get a better indication of how much conviction the electorate really have in the voting process. Perhaps the current high incidence of attempts at spoiling votes is an indication of a disgruntled electorate. If so, why inflate the election participation rate and give credence to an undeserving voting process?

  109. 158 Evariste 9 May 2011 at 20:40

    there are a lot of “spoilt votes” at Potong Pasir — aren’t they likely to be pro-SPP votes?

    should SPP cry foul over this one?

  110. 159 blockhead 9 May 2011 at 21:21

    The point of the whole thing is to just make sure you mark your ballot paper properly! I would like to think that most AROs would rather prefer not to have to make such decisions and just want to get the counting over with.

  111. 160 whatu1 9 May 2011 at 21:38

    Taking about casting votes, does anyone realized the position of election posters? Does anyone question why the incumbent is always on top of the lamp post while the opposition is below? Is this fair?

    Back in 1990s, opposition will contest and fight for the utmost top position of the post. Rationale then was they want to be on top of the incumbent. Then later they realized their mistake of putting their posters on utmost top. It has to do with the polling ballots positioning of the contestants.

    See if you can work this out…

  112. 161 silver 9 May 2011 at 22:13

    I somehow think its just stupid for some people to purposely void their votes. when you are given the chance to vote just consider carefully and vote for one! its like you are given your rights but you chose to throw it away yourself. and then some ppl complain that grc always walkover they don’t have say cause they can’t vote. such an irony.

  113. 162 Eric 9 May 2011 at 22:20

    Realizing this now is depressing. Where is the consistency, fairness, justice. How can this be acceptable? How can 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 treated as a valid vote? How can the G.E. consider this a fair contest? How can 4 be acceptable at one counting centre & not a valid vote at the other. How can 2 with the tick be acceptable?

    Isn’t this consider a fraud in the system. How can this be acceptable especially for the close fight at Marine Parade, Potong Pasir, Holland-Bukit Timah GRCs.

    Can we solve the problem by designing a brand new voting system or place a neutral officer to confirm every voter mark the [ X ] on the ballot paper properly before allowing voters to drop into the ballot box.

    This is a very serious case every Singaporean/Voters should look into.

    • 163 Randall 10 May 2011 at 03:40

      Neutral officer: I think many people would be very uncomfortable with this idea. If at least one person can correlate your face with your vote, it’s no longer secret.

  114. 164 John Normal 9 May 2011 at 22:38

    The take home lesson for the kids appears to be, “when attempting to subvert democracy, be careful not to stay between the lines”

  115. 165 Resha 9 May 2011 at 22:57

    To save the pain arguing which party should a vote go to, I suggest that self-inking stamps should be used instead of pens at the polling stations. So, the counting team just have to worry about where the stamp has landed on the voting slip, not debating about funny phrases or symbols.

  116. 166 Anonymous 9 May 2011 at 23:24

    Oh gosh how can drawing a picture other than a cross be considered a valid vote??without consistency how can the counting be valid especially if the margin is very small?

  117. 167 siew eng 10 May 2011 at 00:21

    hi, alex.

    just wanted to share how the counting is done in malaysia (if my grey cells are up to recalling).

    the returning officer would stand in front of the seated counting agents – not too close but near enough for the latter to scrutinise each ballot paper that is shown by the former. and the officer would announce which party each ballot paper goes to.

    thanks for your sharing. very happy that singapura has maju-ed!

  118. 168 jay 10 May 2011 at 00:38

    I too agree that the elections department could have done more to educate voters on voting eg. by showing examples of the ‘non-conventional’ valid votes/spoilt votes as well, and not just the ‘model example’

    Likewise, one such copy of guidelines and examples should be available at every counting centre to ensure uniformity across all the counting centres.

    That being said, I agree with the above commentors that votes should be ascribed to the parties based on the intentions of the voters using common sense and not inflexibly like a computer programme.

    • 169 yawningbread 10 May 2011 at 02:18

      Actually, your comment illustrates what’s wrong with Singapore and Singaporeans. Why are you asking the elections dept to do that? Why can’t citizens educate themselves? Wasn’t a post by Yawning Bread (and the tweeting and facebooking by plenty others) a form of citizen activism that achieves this purpose? Why the constant looking up to govt to fix problems, including problems that stem from our own ignorance?

      • 170 Poker Player 10 May 2011 at 11:01

        That’s not the worse. How many times do you hear complaints from Singaporeans about the quality of opposition candidates that can vote for?

        Singaporean treat everything like it’s happening in a restaurant. My job is to choose food from a menu. The cooks and waiters do the rest.

        And don’t get me started on them expecting to PAP to create a viable opposition.

        Singaporeans need to be slapped three or four times across the face and be told:

        1) If you got balls, join or contribute money.

        2) If don’t have balls, vote for them (opposition) even if they are monkeys.

        Action 1) will get talented people to notice – big parties are noticed.

        Action 2) will get talented people thinking – hey if this idiot got in this time, I should give it a try next time.

        Before any idiot points out the dangers of 1) and 2), nothing is more dangerous than what the Egyptians and Libyans are doing for their freedom. You can be a coward and still do 2).

      • 171 jay 12 May 2011 at 00:45

        Yup i agree with you that the most ideal way is for the citizens themselves to be more aware etc.

        However, it is inevitable that there will always be voters who are apathetic, lack common sense, or those who insist on challenging the system by deliberately making any marking other than an ‘X’. Likewise, on the other side of the table, there will always be counting officials whose brains are locked in a box.

        The presence of such people can be seen clearly from the variation in the marking of the voting slips as well as the lack of uniformity in counting votes like you mentioned in your article.

        Hence, if a voting system that truely reflects the voices of the citizens (whether explict in the form of an ‘X’ for the desired party or implict like in the ‘go to hell’ example)is desired, other than the current ‘citizen activism’ efforts seeking to reduce ignorance, the mitigating solution would be for clear electoral guidelines (yes, by the government)in the area of voting and tabulating.

  119. 172 angel 10 May 2011 at 00:41

    hey i wonder how true is wad u r sayin! the govtm says tt only cross is allowed! and whats more if u put ‘go to hell’ at the pap box will the opposition allow tt to be counted as a valid vote for pap? tts kinda impossible.

    • 173 yawningbread 10 May 2011 at 02:14

      Read before you comment.

      I said in the article that the final decision rests with the elections official. So, saying “will the opposition allow tt to be counted as a valid vote for pap?” is nonsensical.

  120. 174 cpy 10 May 2011 at 00:43

    if the accept no.10 as valid vote, meaning the accept to go to hell?

    Lol…just my 2 cents.

  121. 175 cb 10 May 2011 at 01:07

    I cannot help but exclaim ‘CB!’ because the best minds in the country cannot set down a foolproof standard to get this problem right.

    Already I can think of one: give the voter a pen that leaves a mark only once, 5 mm in diameter. Separate the candidates’ boxes by more than 5 mm. Make said voter dump pen when leaving. The bloody CB of a voter may still exercise his constitutional right to spoil the vote by not leaving a mark.

    If you want to scrimp on the special pens, put two small, widely separated circles on the sheet. ANY mark through the circle is a valid vote by way of clear intention (save offensive scribbles or doodles because there’s always some sonofabitch who doesn’t get the word). The CB may still spoil his vote by striking through both circles.

    Please don’t suggest fancy OAS sheets, electronic systems or Florida-style “hanging chads”. These all have the potential to fuck up.

    Shame on you!

    • 176 Blockhead 10 May 2011 at 11:25

      Any system can fuck up lah. People should just be careful and like someone above said, “Don’t get greative”. Some people out there just don’t understand or take for granted the election process. For these people, no matter what you do, they will screw with the ballot paper. In cases like that, the intention of the voter probably doesn’t matter anyway and the numbers are small in the overall picture. Also, about suggestions to talk abt examples of spoilt votes….there had been numerous articles in newspapers, websites, and TV about using the X to mark the preferred party. Why have to use examples of spoilt votes to confuse the issue. Voters should be prepared that anything aside from an X in the right box will leave space for intepretation!

      • 177 cb 11 May 2011 at 00:48

        The reason I brought this up is, the system’s objective is to respect the intention of the voter, whether it is clear or not. This is done to the best of the election official’s ability based on the evidence before him.

        A straight X is clear enough, as is a a sloppy one or a tick. Unfortunately a “go to hell” or a “0” has come to mean different things at different counting centres.

        A vote is rejected or declared spoilt only if a voter’s intention of choice cannot be established. Note that not making a choice is a voter’s right. It may be an express right, or an implied right conferred by ballot secrecy.

        When yawningbread said that the officials were “scrupulously fair”, he meant that they stuck with the standards without favour to either party. Unfortunately, those standards were not consistent across tables or counting centres.

        My anger is at those who have failed to devise a workable system or even apply standards uniformly, despite having ample resources at their disposal. As others have pointed out, those standards are open to manipulation.

  122. 178 Gazebo 10 May 2011 at 01:43

    hi YB, can you give us an idea how many % of the votes you handled were not of the ” correct and standard variety”? i.e. not a proper X in one box only.

  123. 179 leo 10 May 2011 at 02:03

    I think the pertinent issue here is to consider the INTENTION of the voter.

    Based on this, examples 4, examples 10-12 will be considered as void. I consider example 4 void as it does not indicate a clear preference for either party. Example 11-12 are “clearly unclear”. I will consider example 10 void for 1) the lack of clarity and 2) the idiocy of the particular voter.

    Having read comments where some table chiefs considered a “O” mark as being a vote for the other party instead, I think it will be better to consider the “O” mark as a vote for whichever half that mark falls in. Well, the “O” mark might be considered as giving that party a “kosong”, but it will become a valid vote by applying the rule that a clear mark will be considered as a vote for that party.

    However, the lack of consistency between table chiefs, voting centres should be noted. PAP might be happy to allow this inconsistency to exist as this will probably work in their favour. I’m not sure how the additional opposition voices can call for a closer scrutiny of the entire electoral process.

    On the point of educating voters:
    The truth however, is that a lot of people are still sadly uninformed about the voting procedure. Despite the enormous buzz created by this year’s elections, there was actually still a number of voters who probably didn’t realize that the elections was on 7 May or only realized it at the last minute. The voting procedure has been taught through TV on all Mediacorp channels, indicating that we should mark a “X” in the party that we support. However, due to various reasons such as people not owning TVs, the poor quality of Mediacorp programs, poor memory, shaky hands or even an irresistible urge to hurl insults at the incumbent party, we see the many cases of spoilt votes as shown above. There is only how much the parties can do other than going to EVERY single voter to give them a copy of Alex’s blog post, printing this in the 4 major languages and giving a lecture to those who are illiterate.

    Considering Alex’s more recent post on future areas for the opposition to begin “working the ground”, there is thus a need to address (at least on the topic of elections):

    1) Clearer standards on the counting of votes

    2) Reduce the impact of gerrymandering – either fixing electoral boundaries or giving a longer period after announcing new electoral boundaries, before elections can be called

    3) Aim to establish the Elections Department as being independent from the PMO. (I find having a RO who is the CED of the PA a cause of concern, though Mr Yam has shown that he can
    be devoid of emotions, when he announced the results)

    4) Perhaps question the need for a “Cooling Day”. I found many forum letters on Friday (both ST and ZB) that sang praises of George Yeo that said he was too valuable to lose. While the end result shown that these letters did not matter ultimately, it was still pretty lame overall.

    P.S. As a 22-year old voting in Aljunied GRC (the youngest voting age possible as 21-year olds are not in the register of electors) – I think many first-time voters are now more confident that their vote is secret, because the actual voting slip is actually unmarked. Tracking can only be down to the precinct level, but never to the individual level. This will probably mean that more voters will be emboldened to vote for the opposition parties.

    • 180 j 12 May 2011 at 00:58

      Regarding, your last point, I think you might have overlooked the serial number printed at the back of the voting slip. Nevertheless I still remain convinced that our votes are secret.

  124. 181 dgf6929 10 May 2011 at 04:25

    I am still wondering how the votes are counted

  125. 182 T 10 May 2011 at 08:15

    One new fool-proof way to mark the ballot is to design the choices similar to marking the numbers on Toto or 4D – use a dark soft pencil to black out the candidate/party of your choice. Every Ah Peh, Auntie, Ah Beng, Ah Lian, Muthu and Ahmad will know how to do it correctly.

  126. 183 sieteocho 10 May 2011 at 10:17

    True that the counters were very well behaved. But could it be that somebody told them that a famous blogger is in the room, and that there would be severe consequences if there was any hanky panky going on?

    This would be reporter’s bias.

  127. 184 moldyb5 10 May 2011 at 10:33

    Aha, what a good insight, yawning bread has brought. In Potong Pasir, the vote difference is only 116. yet the no. of spoilt votes was far beyond 200 votes. Has the Presiding Officer go thru’ the spoilt votes & get 2nd or 3rd opinion before awarding it to the winner? Soince there is not clear cut idication on how the votes is contrued as a alid or invalid votes.

    Rightly, the various examples of how the votes can possibly be casted should be published in all our newspaper to educate the public at least 3 days before the polling day. It will put straight of all unintended votes for a party.

    I’ll make a copy of this article & saved it into my thumbdrive. Well done!!

  128. 185 edith 10 May 2011 at 10:42

    thank you for this. enlightening. have to say examples 4, 10-12 are rather suspect to me though.

  129. 186 Pat 10 May 2011 at 12:24

    Thank you for this very timely article. I haven’t quite read all the comments yet, so bear with me if there are repetitions in my comment.

    One thing really disturbs me is that- is there CONSISTENCY throughout the counting? That is, if some of the examples you cited are accepted in your centre, is this UNIFORM throughout all the counting centers? Because this makes all the difference to the percentage share of the votes of the winning party in each ward. And of course as we can see in very close fights like Potong Pasir, it becomes a ‘make or break’ thing.

    I think this must be addressed and the more people discuss it and know about it, the better. Your example that at your counting centre the officer didn’t accept a tick and a cross on each of the party, yet at another, this was accepted is, to me, very, very disturbing. This means that there is NO CONSISTENCY. Worse still, later on you mentioned that a person who wrote ‘go to hell’ right across one party’s space, is considered as a vote to the party? Surely that would be a spoilt vote. (of course we know what the sentiment is)

    This leaves me very worrried because things can then be manipulated at certain key counting centers. I can accept that a tick on one party is acceptable as a vote/endorsement for them, even though you are supposed to put a cross. But I cannot accpet that a tick and a cross for each of the 2 parties is accepted as valid and the vote goes to the party with the cross. Worse still, I CANNOT accept that a ‘go to hell’ has been considered as a vote?!!!

    What are all your views about this?

    • 187 yawningbread 10 May 2011 at 14:12

      If I were the table chief, I could also argue that “Go to hell” is a valid vote for the party against whose box it was written. This table chief adopted the policy (consistently too) that any marking in a party’s box counts as a vote for that party, so long as the other box was clean.

      Now, supposing the words “Go to hell” were written in say, Arabic or Russian, languages that the table chief could not understand. All he would see was some kind of scribble mark. By his policy, he would accept it as a vote for that party. Therefore by this reasoning, he would be inconsistent if he rejected the scribble only when it was in a language he could understand. Isn’t that worse?

      • 188 Mediacasting 10 May 2011 at 18:49

        As my previous comment, I do believe it’s still possible to salvage the situation, but it really depends on the table chief and the rapport that has already been established between yourself and the other agent(s).

        If it were to happen at my table, and if the ‘go to hell’ example already happened and everyone agreed to the logic that it should be voided because intent is unclear, I can then make the following case for scribbles that are not immediately understood:

        1. The scribble could be an identification mark, like a name written in a language that we do not read. Once reasonable doubt is introduced, the most straightforward course of action is to void it. A true example of this in my situation is chinese characters that were written in the box. Between us, we could not read it, but it was voided because it appeared to be an identification (3 characters)

        2. Likewise in same manner, the words might be of an equivalent and unsupportive nature as “go to hell”. Since no one at the table is able to ascertain beyond reasonable doubt, the final decision belongs to the table chief and I know my table chief preferred to err on the side of caution and void such votes

      • 189 B. C. 12 May 2011 at 19:50

        One way out of this conundrum is perhaps for a pile of ‘uncertain votes’ (2 way contest) to be separated into a fourth pile: the first 3 being: one pile each for each party, 1 pile for obviously spoilt votes (blank sheets, major illegible scribblings across page, has the word ‘SPOILT-VOTE’ written by voter on it). The former 3 categories should be easily determined by the vote counters themselves- the counting agents (from each party) having the right perhaps to single out votes sorted that they don’t agree with into the 4th pile- ‘ambiguous’ (via the table chief of course).

        The status of ‘ambiguous votes’ should then be determined by consensus amongst the parties- table chief and the counting agts- and maybe marked on reverse with a stamp documenting the final status of the ‘ambiguous vote’ having been re-decided by consensus amongst the parties presiding (only registered rubber stamps may be used- and marked on the reverse of the vote chit of course)- and then added to each pile according to decision- either party or decidedly spoilt votes.

        Only after this process of almost all ambiguous vote determination (by consensus) has been done should the real counting commence.

        This would be a good process to follow for its transparency, unambiguity and consensus.

        Only with great exception (in the event of a persistent tie) should the remaining ‘ambiguous despite reconsideration’ pile be opened.

        Counting agents may halt the process at any point of time should they see discrepancies in the counting process and request clarification.

        This way, the need/ request for a recount would be much removed- provided of course that counting processes are followed to the T.

        The need to run through ‘ambiguous votes’ in the sparse event of a recount request would also be lessened with this process by consensus too.

  130. 190 weewee 10 May 2011 at 16:39

    Hi Alex, great first hand information. One question please, was there CCTV in the Counting Center. If CCTV mounted in the counting center than voting is not secret anymore.

    • 191 Pat 11 May 2011 at 03:08

      Disagree with you. All you would see would be whatever’s on the ballot paper – be it crosses, ticks, funny symbols etc. You won’t be able to see any identification that will link each ballot slip to a person.

  131. 192 weewee 10 May 2011 at 17:17

    Was there CCTV in the Counting Center.

  132. 193 T0h 10 May 2011 at 17:30

    Reading all these make me wish that they do the count with video cameras on each table showing clearly each vote and the verdict of ARO. This video can be broadcasted to the candidates and supporters outside and also broadcast to the public on channel news asia. So for example there’s 10 voting centers and CNA will show counting on random tables in 5 minute blocks and switch to other centers every 15 minutes. All counting agents and volunteers will be notified of the video taking but not when it will show their table. The CNA broadcast can also show caption of total how many votes awarded to each party and how many votes voided at the bottom. Like that there will be no bias on the part of the ARO. And it will make things more exciting for those of us waiting at home for the result.

  133. 195 David Teo 10 May 2011 at 18:08

    I was a polling agent as well as counting agent. At Pioneer, so long as the cross is within the rectangle, it counts. I think this is fair as there were mis-aimed crosses on both rectangles. The questionable ones are when there is a cross and tick on each space. Did the voter vote for the tick or cross. My feeling is that the voter voted for the tick, but yes it was voided.

    As polling agent, I was given a copy of the voters’ register and I crossed out the participant as they came in. This can be obtained from the election dept and 7 pages of 70 units would cost less than 30 cents. I think NSP HQ paid for them.

    Yes, it was an eye opening experience. Perhaps SDP can get their volunteers organised a few days before polling day. Step by step, you will march into Parliament. Cheers.

  134. 196 Jared 10 May 2011 at 21:32

    Hi are you sure you’re allowed to blog about this? aren’t you running afoul of the oath of secrecy? just a heads up.

  135. 198 James 10 May 2011 at 22:19

    Hey there!

    I just would like to enquire if you know any of the counting agent in my school? It’s at NorthLight School… thanks!

  136. 199 AL 10 May 2011 at 23:28

    The number of creative solutions here is hilarious. No system is foolproof and I think our ballots are actually one of the cheapest and most effective systems. I also think that absolute consistency across centers may not be such a big deal as long as each center is consistent. I actually thought that the chief at your counting center was very fair.

  137. 200 anonymous 11 May 2011 at 00:08

    And cross on both boxes meant….?

    • 201 blockhead 11 May 2011 at 15:44

      Following the logic that the marking should be in one box, a cross in two boxes would be rejected since the voter’s intention is not clear.

  138. 202 11 May 2011 at 00:41

    If I am the table, I will only accept num 1. as valid votes.

  139. 203 Anonymous 11 May 2011 at 09:51

    I found the below post to be a good one
    “One new fool-proof way to mark the ballot is to design the choices similar to marking the numbers on Toto or 4D – use a dark soft pencil to black out the candidate/party of your choice. Every Ah Peh, Auntie, Ah Beng, Ah Lian, Muthu and Ahmad will know how to do it correctly.”

  140. 204 Rubes 11 May 2011 at 18:11

    “For every “go to hell” ballot there were at least fifty more with the faintest of scratches,…”

    That’s tian yi (heaven’s will) !

  141. 205 Di 11 May 2011 at 21:51

    I’m quite sure the people making their decisions by dropping a pen would mark a cross on the ballot afterwards.

  142. 206 OppositionVolunteer 12 May 2011 at 10:22

    I was a volunteer for an opposition party in GE 2011 as a polling and counting agent. I must say that I love every second of it even though it can be quite tiring at times. I enjoyed the most when I had to “fight” over a spoilt vote with the pap counting agent. I had to argued my case as to why the spoilt vote should be a valid vote for the opposition party and of course the pap did her agrument too. At the day, we will respect the ARO’s decision. I must say that the ARO at my counting centre was consistent with his decision throughout and was fair.

    After volunteering in this GE 2011, I realised what the opposition party can’t compare with the pap in almost every aspect of the campaign from logistic, manpower, financial, resources, etcs. However, what the opposition party does have is a group of volunteers who were there to do it willingly from the bottom of our heart and we were not paid a single cent for our time, transportation, etcs.

    Would I do it again come next GE? You can bet your last dollar that I will be there. I would like to encourage people out there who have been thinking of playing a more active role besides casting your vote for the opposition to step up and play a part in the election process. Do and fight for something that you believe in.

  143. 207 Murli 12 May 2011 at 15:08

    Posted my Polling Agent experience on my blog:

    Just for your info really. It’s a less-serious account than your post.

  144. 208 Rod X 13 May 2011 at 01:46

    I volunteered my full-day service as a polling agent because I wanted this rare experience and to personally want to learn and audit the process. Whether we are election staff, incumbent or opposing agents or securities, we have the same purpose as all Singaporeans – We want the best practice for Singapore.
    There are a number of areas that the Election Dept can look into to improve the process. Briefly they are:
    1. Staff Training. Prepare FAQ to train staff to answer common questions. Why are the polling agents there? Why the serial number? etc. I witnessed some staff who were stuck and had to be rescued by the Senior Presiding Officer.
    2. Direction assistance to the Polling station (high visibility signage and buntings). I saw some dazed folks soaked in sweat because they could not find the place or lost.
    3. IC authentication and announcement procedure (and purpose). Is the announcement meant to confirm the identity of the voter or for the officer or agents to strike the name off from their list?
    4. Consideration for human traffic flow from the authentication to Voting booth to depositing votes into ballot box. Voters were moving forward and backward from point A to B to C to Exit.
    5. The design of the Ballot Box. The two holes / slots are confusing the public. Is one for the Opp and the other for Pap? Voters asked.
    6. Clear and standardized (and not ambiguous)marking signs (cross, tick or zero)with fine black marker pen. I noted there were different interpretation on what is valid markings and what is not.
    7. Clear instructions (in text and graphics) to guide the voters at key points where actions are taken e.g. voting booth, Exit, etc.
    8. Better privacy in the design of the booth. It is quite easy to note that the voter is marking the top or the bottom box.
    9. Special wider lane and assistance for the handicapped (wheelchair), the very senior folks and the ‘down-syndrome’ voters.
    10. Proper pantry and portable toilet facilities for all helpers / agents to fulfill their biological needs without having to leave the station.
    11 The redesign of the antiquated voting slip in full colour. Some public can better identify the party by colour and not in black and white.
    12. To prepare for eVoting or electronic counting in the future when our voting population increases.

  145. 209 Farah 14 May 2011 at 00:35

    Very disturbed that there are different standards at different counting centers, as you compared your experiences with a friend’s. Maybe in this case, being inflexible and strict about how much leeway is given is the only way to preserve the integrity of the vote counting process.

  146. 210 xiaocangshu 15 May 2011 at 11:34

    Hello sir, thank you for sharing this. Now I know why it’s important to mark the ballot paper properly.

    I am just wondering, how would you handle a situation where someone wrote insulting remarks next to the logo of the party you represent? Thanks.

  147. 211 Raine Young 16 May 2011 at 10:13


    I was a counting agent too. Your article is fair, but many of those commenting are distorting the facts.

    First, there were very few votes where the markings were unclear, uncertain or unconventional.

    Second, where there was any uncertainty, the table head would show the ballot to the counting agents of both parties. In every case at my table, both counting agents agreed with the decision of the table head. A friend of mine was at another centre, where there was a disagreement on only two votes. Eventually, one went to the opposition and one to the PAP.

    Three, to say that the decisions on the “uncertain” votes affected the result is a desperate attempt to question the result. The numbers are just too small. Further, why presume that the decision always favours the PAP or that those who play with their votes are opposition supporters?

    The election is over and all parties (save one) have accepted their defeats graciously. It appears that for some, the process only has integrity if the result is favourable.

  148. 212 Rebecca Tan 7 September 2015 at 10:53

    Reblogged this on Ministry of Love 사랑의 사역 and commented:
    Good to read up on this if decide to void your sacred vote.

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