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Result of WP victory suspected as early as 930 p.m.

Posted on 27 January 2013

Small volume of ballots and two-horse race made leaks from counting centres easy.

Leaks from the counting centres on social media made mainstream media 'live' updates about polling results look bad. And very slow.

Leaks from the counting centres on social media made mainstream media ‘live’ updates about polling results look bad. And very slow.

For those of you who are curious as to how Facebook and Twitter constantly beat Channel News Asia last night to bring ‘live’ reports about the polling updates and results indicating a Workers’ Party lead over the PAP, well, here’s how:

Only two counting centres

In this Punggol East SMC by-election, there were only two counting centres: North Vista Secondary School and Rivervale Primary School.

Counting centres are where all the action happens and where all the leaks about who is in the lead come from.

In a typical GRC battle, there can be a lot more counting centres, hence, making tabulating the overall votes and swings a bitch to handle.

However, in last night’s tallying, ballot boxes from the 10 polling centres were brought to only these two counting centres.

A total of 29,832 valid votes and 417 rejected votes came in. Typically, each polling centre would have between 2,000 to 3,000 ballot slips.

So, each counting centre handled about 15,000-odd ballot slips.

Counting process

Once ballot boxes are broken open, usually at about 9 p.m., all the ballot slips are poured onto large tables. Counting staff (usually civil servant types) will be assigned to count the ballots.

The aim of the counting staff is, therefore, to sort the ballots into piles.

How fast does it take?

Well, usually within the first 10 to 15 minutes of sorting, the result as to who is leading and losing will be quite clear as the ballots are stacked into piles.

Will it be a two-horse race? Or a landslide?

You can answer these questions very confidently just by looking at the piles.

The amazing thing about statistics is that by grabbing at random a handful of ballots, you can almost immediately tell how the votes are spread.

And the whole process of sorting takes about 30 minutes at most.

Leaks

So, can you begin to imagine the glee of WP counting agents inside the counting centres, as they are bouncing up and down on the inside but still have to maintain a professional poker face on the outside as they see the piles stack up?

These counting agents are assigned by the various political parties to oversee the counting process to make sure it is fair.

And this is also where all the leaks come from: Counting agents.

They can give a fairly accurate report about what the tally is at any given time via WhatsApp or SMS. Which is why you hear all these numbers flying about on social media about who is in the lead.

So if you ever want to find out fairly accurately what the vote tally is before everyone else in Singapore does, it is important to make friends with people who might end up as counting agents.

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