30 March 2010

The Secrecy of an Overseas Vote

Today in my mail was an air-mailed letter from the Elections Department, informing me that my application to be an overseas voter was approved. Why they had to send me a physical letter when they could've saved some money and use email instead is puzzling to me.

But anyway, this reminds me of a conversation I had yesterday with a couple of Singaporeans here in Canberra. Somehow, the elections came into the discussion, and we arrived at the issue of the secrecy of our votes.

I am fairly confident -- not that I give a damn -- that the individual vote is secret. But it is widely known that, because vote counting is done independently for each polling district, the election officials (and the witnesses from each party) know the distribution of the votes for that district.

Of course, this does not present too much of a problem in Singapore, since there are probably thousands of voters in each district. But as an overseas voter, my vote goes to the district I'm registered in (through my home address). And the counting of overseas votes is done separately when the votes are flown back to Singapore (assuming the procedure is the same as in 2006; see PDF link).

So unless there are a million overseas voter flooding down to Singapore High Commission in Canberra when the election comes, chances are that I am the only one -- or at most, one of the few -- from my district amongst all the overseas votes coming from Canberra. In fact, in the 2006 general elections, there were only 137 voters in Canberra (see PDF link). How secret is my vote then?

Even if overseas votes are counted on the constituency level and not separated down to districts, the size is still small enough to make some people worry.

On the other hand, the oveaseas votes will only matter if the vote difference between the contesting parties is less than the total number of registered overseas voters for that constituency. Since it is unlikely that the vote discrepency can get that small, chances are that the overseas vote makes no difference. I'm not sure if they'll still be counted nonetheless though, but I doubt so since I cannot find any information on the overseas votes results.


Anonymous said...

Overseas vote counting is conducted a few days after the polls close. Refer to this site: http://www.singapore-elections.com/parl-2006-ge/

I recall that there was an article about the overseas vote counting results too, back in 2006. Given the single-digit numbers for some of the constituencies, it appeared quite easy to personally link the voter to the vote.

Jackson Tan said...

Precisely my point. And I vaguely recall from the 2006 GE results that the overseas votes tend to favour PAP.

Could this be an explanation?

Kaffein said...

It's a joke itself going all the way to Canberra to vote. Do they think the journey is from Changi to Jurong?

Exactly why they don't have one voting centre for each state I don't know. Or for more of the popular states which Singaporeans go to, eg Perth, Melbourne


Jackson Tan said...

It's at Canberra for Australia because that's where the High Commission is. This is the case for all the other overseas polling station.

Perhaps there is a rule that says the poll cannot be done on a land outside the jurisdiction of the government, which explains why they cannot rent a place in, say, Sydney and set a polling station there.

Ponder Stibbons said...

In the UK they can vote from overseas by post (among other things). Having people go to embassy/consulates is archaic.

And yeah, the physical letter thing --- not only that, but when I submitted my application online to be an overseas elector, I did not receive any email confirmation that I had applied. This should be trivial to implement and should be standard for all application-type things.

Overseas votes might also be pro-PAP because if the embassy is in a city with not many Singaporeans (like Canberra) then most of the people voting might be embassy staff. I wouldn't be surprised if most embassy staff are pro-PAP.

Jackson Tan said...

In the UK they can vote from overseas by post (among other things). Having people go to embassy/consulates is archaic.

Yes, that's so true. And to think that overseas voting was only implemented in the last election.

From a sceptical point of view, it can be argued that the authorities chose the High Commission method of voting than via other methods because, for reasons you have given, it allows a greater proportion of votes for PAP.