S'porean living in Munich spends $2,400 to fly back to vote
Overseas voters, some of whom can't make it to the 10 allocated polling stations, call for electronic or postal voting
Determined to cast her vote in the General Election and have it count with the main tally, Munich-based Singaporean Lim Ren Hui decided months ahead to return home for Polling Day today.
The closest overseas polling station is in London - the only one of 10 overseas stations located in Europe - and Ms Lim, 27, said she was "extremely dissatisfied with the fact that overseas votes are only taken into account if local votes are inconclusive".
So the stay-at-home mother, who has lived in Munich for two years with her German husband and young son, spent months anxiously waiting for news on the election dates, and repeatedly checking for available flights she could hop on. "It took a lot of time to prepare for the trip, and the lack of advance notice of Polling Day is a huge reason," said Ms Lim.
"Eventually I booked my tickets on Aug 6, long before Polling Day was officially announced. I had to trust the rumours that it would be held on or around Sept 12, as the flight prices were going up and I needed to make a decision before the prices got exorbitant."
After forking out about $2,400 for air tickets and spending 11.5 hours flying with her 21-month-old son, she arrived home last week exhausted but eager to vote.
"It is an act of love for my country, I care about Singapore and I am proud to be an active citizen," Ms Lim told The New Paper.
"It is a value which I hope to pass on to my children through my real-life example. A valid vote is a valid vote and overseas Singaporeans should not be second-class citizens whose votes only count in exceptional circumstances,'' she added.
Ms Lim is one of a growing number of Singaporeans living abroad - as of last year, there were 212,000 such individuals, up from 157,800 in 2004. Some TNP spoke to said they were frustrated with limitations overseas voters have to work with in order to cast their ballot.
Of the 10 overseas polling stations, three are located in the US - itself a vast country; two in mainland China; and one each in Hong Kong, Japan, Australia, the UK, and Dubai, which was added to the list earlier this year.
Ten overseas Singaporeans who spoke to TNP said they would not be voting as they could neither afford the time nor money to travel on a work day to a polling station, some of which were far enough to require a day's flying each way.
New Zealand-based student Chiu Kai Ling is one such example. Her closest polling station is in Canberra, Australia, a three-hour plane ride away.
"Unfortunately as a student with limited funds, on top of the fact that polling day falls on a weekday which means I have classes, I can't fly to Canberra," said the 30-year-old.
Only a handful, most of whom live within a train ride of the nearest polling station, said they would take the time to get their vote in.
Among them is Mr Premchand Brian, a 26-year-old working for his PhD in neuroscience in Edinburgh, Scotland, who will be voting overseas for the second straight election.
Come Polling Day, he will be riding some five hours by train into London and back, with tickets costing about $570 for the round trip.
"It is my right and duty as an adult citizen to vote," said Mr Brian.
"Anyway, I haven't visited London in quite a while so it'll be good to see it again.
"But if secure enough to avoid electoral fraud, I'd support electronic or mail-in voting because it'd be a lot less expensive and far more convenient."
Most of those who spoke to TNP said they would also welcome voting online or via postal mail, given the number of overseas Singaporeans and their varied locations abroad. Miss Chiu noted security concerns surrounding online voting, but suggested having electronic voting ride on improved security for the Singpass with the implementation of two-factor authentification (2FA).
"Would that (2FA) not be able to make the process more secure?" she asked.
Ms Lim, meanwhile, called postal voting "relatively straightforward to implement", noting that an advantage would be that it could also function in developing countries with patchy Internet services.
"In Germany, they send the documents ahead of time and the voters have to mail them in before a deadline earlier than the polling day, using special envelopes with clear marking that the contents are extremely time-sensitive," said Ms Lim.
A valid vote is a valid vote and overseas Singaporeans should not be second-class citizens whose votes only count in exceptional circumstances.
- Ms Lim Ren Hui, 27, a Singaporean residing in Munich
When the overseas vote counts
In past elections, overseas votes were only counted days after the results based on local votes were announced.
In its website, the Elections Department (ELD) says that if overseas votes have no impact on the outcome of the result, the Returning Officer will declare the winner of the constituency contested.
In a 2006 forum letter to The Straits Times, the ELD said that if the winning margin based on local votes is "clearly higher" than the number of overseas votes, "it serves no purpose in delaying the declaration of winners".
"However, overseas votes will still be counted and added to the local votes and subsequently published in the Government Gazette," it added.
But if local votes are inconclusive and overseas votes could affect the result, "the announcement of the result would be deferred until the day when the overseas votes are counted".
In the last General Election, there were 38 valid overseas votes for Potong Pasir SMC in a very close contest between the People's Action Party (PAP) and the Singapore People's Party's (SPP).
Before the counting of overseas votes, the PAP's Sitoh Yih Pin was declared the winner over SPP's Lina Chiam by just 114 votes as the 38 overseas votes would not change the result.
The ELD said the overseas votes were split down the middle, with each party getting 19 votes..
There have been instances of overseas voting for a particular constituency reflecting a different pattern than that of local votes.
The overseas votes in Mountbatten during GE 2011 saw losing National Solidarity Party candidate Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss getting 25 votes compared with 20 for the PAP's Lim Biow Chuan.
But the result declared based on local votes remained unchanged as Mr Lim had a lead of about 3,000 votes after the local count.
As of Aug 25, the day the writ of election was issued, 4,868 Singaporeans were eligible to vote overseas - about 0.2 per cent of the 2,462,926 citizens eligible to vote in total.