We, The Citizens and GE2020
I’ve been wondering how this newsletter should adjust to fit election season for some time. Again, the guiding principle is: how can this be useful?
As you can see, I’m breaking the once-a-week round-up cycle, since there’ll only be two Saturdays between now and Polling Day 😫. I’ll be sending out issues with analysis and useful information/updates as necessary during this period, but will do my best to balance being timely with not bombarding people’s inboxes.
To supplement your reading, I recommend the excellent GE20Watch newsletter for summaries and developments now we get further and further into the thick of things.
Between GE20Watch doing such a good job and the flood of coverage from TODAYonline, Channel News Asia, The Straits Times, Yahoo! Singapore, and The Online Citizen, I don’t think I should try to beat newsrooms at their breaking news game. Instead, I’d like to play to my strengths and find ways to make We, The Citizens as useful and engaging as possible as we get to grips with this COVID-19 election.
Instead of giving you blow-by-blow accounts, I’ll be focusing more on analysis, commentary, and context. I’m not interested in promoting or campaigning for any party, but will do my best to provide information and access to things that might need amplification (as you’ll see in this issue). As always, if you have any feedback, reply to this email to get in touch, or leave a comment.
If you’re a Milo Peng Funder, you should have already received an email to a private discussion space to talk about election-related issues. Feel free to use it to ask questions or engage with others as you like.
Want to get more involved in GE2020?
Elections are communal activities, but this one is going to be different from the others. We won’t be able to gather at physical rallies, so activities like listening to speeches are going to have to be done at home, either with family, or watched alone.
But there are still ways to get more hands-on with the election process. All the political parties are going to be needing volunteers, not just to help them with walkabouts and outreach, but also to be polling and counting agents on Polling Day itself. (To learn more about what polling and counting agents do, check out this comic explainer.)
I was a counting agent in 2011, and I’d recommend the experience to anyone who would like to get a closer look at how the election is run*. Volunteering to be a polling or counting agent is one way that ordinary citizens can be part of the electoral process and ensure that it goes as smoothly and fairly as it can.
Here’s how you can sign up to volunteer with various political parties (please note that you have to be a Singapore citizen!):
I’m listing these alphabetically to prevent anyone trying to divine some sort of hidden message...
If you’d like to volunteer for the People’s Action Party, head over to the form on their website. I couldn’t find a link for donations.
To become a volunteer with the Reform Party, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Details on how to donate to the party can be found here.
The Workers’ Party is recruiting volunteers for a wide variety of activities — from polling/counting agents to logistics, photography, and even driving people around. You can also donate to the party here.
If you have information for how people can volunteer for other parties, please hit reply and let me know.
* That said, we can’t ignore the fact that we’re in the middle of a pandemic. As much as people should try to practise safe distancing outside of their homes, there’s always a risk of it not being practical or enforceable. If you’re immuno-compromised or have any other health concerns that might make you vulnerable to the coronavirus (or live with people who might be vulnerable), it might not be a good idea for you to volunteer on the ground, whether as a campaign worker or a polling/counting agent.
If you don’t want to volunteer for a political party, but would still like to get more involved: The Online Citizen is also recruiting volunteers for their GE2020 coverage. While some of the positions they’re hoping to cover will involve going outdoors and being on the ground, there are others that can be done from home. Sign up here. You can also donate to TOC here.
Hey, does anyone remember the overseas Singaporeans?
Parliament has been dissolved and we now have our date for Polling Day, but what of Singaporeans who aren’t in the country?
Overseas voters are Singaporeans who are above 21 years of age, and who either still have Singaporean addresses on their identity cards, or have registered local contact addresses with the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority. They also have to have been in Singapore for an aggregate of at least 30 days in the three years before the cut-off date for the Register of Electors.
If you’re a Singaporean living abroad of voting age, please remember to register as an overseas voter using your SingPass here. Registration is open until 25 June 2020, 2359hrs (Singapore time), so do it NOW.
So far, there hasn’t been any guidance to overseas voters about this unlike-any-other election. There are usually only 10 overseas polling stations: high commissions/embassies/consulates in Washington D.C., New York, San Francisco, London, Dubai, Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Canberra. This means that overseas voters will need to get themselves to one of these polling stations (whichever is allotted to them) to vote.
But what happens during a pandemic? While Singaporeans at home have been told about “time bands”, among other special arrangements, that will help to enforce safe distancing and prevent crowds at polling stations, it’s not clear if there will be a similar system in place at the consulates and embassies.
And that’s if you can even get to your polling station: overseas voters might live in cities and/or countries that have travel restrictions, perhaps even lockdowns. (For example, if you’re a Singaporean in Canada, you would usually have to go to San Francisco or New York to vote, but the border is closed right now.) There might be quarantine periods to consider, either when travelling to the city with the polling station, or returning from it, or both. Some might have to travel domestically, such as within the US, or across continents — if you live in Europe, your only option is London. If you live anywhere on the continent of Africa, you’re going to have to leave the continent before you find a polling station. Even if it were possible, how safe would it be?
There’s no option for postal voting, so for many overseas voters it’s likely that the only option would be to sit out this election, get struck off the Register of Electors for not voting, then apply to be restored later. But is this good enough? How important do we consider voting to be?
If you’re an overseas voter who would like more clarity, you might want to reach out to the Elections Department — like Grace Chua, who is based in Boston, did. You can reach the ELD at +65 6225 5353 (from 8:30am to 5pm, Singapore time, until Nomination Day, after which the hotline will operate until 9pm), or email them at email@example.com. Alternatively, you can use this form to contact them. You can also use the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website to find and contact your closest polling station to ask them what you should do.
If you receive a response, or have any more information, please let me know by replying to this email, or leaving a comment! Or if you’d just like to share your thoughts on being an overseas voter during this pandemic election, feel free:
(Comments will be open for public view so we can share what we know.)
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