Safe Custody of Ballot Papers

There is a rigorous process to ensure security of the vote and voting secrecy at each election. There is no break in the chain of custody of ballot papers from the polling station to the counting centre, and from the counting centre to the Supreme Court where the ballot papers are retained in safe custody for 6 months and subsequently destroyed. For transparency, the process is open to observation by candidates who are present.

Before the start of poll at 8 am

Before the ballot boxes are used, they are shown to candidates and their polling agents who are present, so that they can verify that the boxes are empty. The boxes are then sealed by the Presiding Officers at the polling station. This is done before the start of poll on Polling Day.

After the close of poll at 8 pm

After the poll has closed, Presiding Officers at the polling station seal these ballot boxes containing the ballot papers which had been cast. Candidates and their polling agents who are present witness the process and may also place their own seals on the ballot boxes. The sealed ballot boxes carried by the Presiding Officers are then transported under Police escort to the counting centre. A police officer is on board the bus and stands guard over the ballot boxes throughout the journey.

Counting of votes

At the counting centre, before the ballot boxes are opened, candidates and their counting agents who are present may inspect all the boxes again to ascertain that all the boxes are accounted for, that no others are present, and that the seals of all the ballot boxes are intact and have not been tampered with. The seals are then broken and the ballot boxes are opened, and the ballot papers therein are poured out, sorted and counted. The emptied ballot boxes are ascertained in the presence of all to be empty.

After announcement of election result

After the election result has been announced by the Returning Officer, the ballot papers and other official documents used in the election are placed into separate boxes and sealed. This process is witnessed by candidates and their counting agents who are present, and they may also place their own seals on these boxes. These boxes are then conveyed by Police escort and retained in safe custody for 6 months at the Supreme Court. After 6 months, they are destroyed by incineration, unless directed otherwise by order of the President.

Ballot Paper Serial Number

The serial number on the ballot paper is to protect the integrity of the democratic process. It enables strict accounting of all ballot papers issued and cast, and guards against counterfeiting and voter impersonation.

When the ballot paper is issued, the voter serial number is written on the ballot paper counterfoil to facilitate vote tracing if necessary. This is allowed only if there is an order from the Court arising from an election petition, and the Court must be satisfied that votes have been fraudulently cast thus affecting the result of the election.

Calling out the voter serial number and voter’s name allows voters to acknowledge that the Presiding Officer has identified the right name and makes the proceedings more transparent to polling agents who are representing their candidates to observe the proceedings.

Theoretically, it is possible for anyone with access to the ballot papers to identify who cast a particular vote. The link between the ballot paper number and the voter serial number on the counterfoil does facilitate tracing from a ballot paper to a voter's identity on the Registers of Electors in the event there is an election petition.