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GE15: Here’s Why The Purple Ink On Your Finger Turns Brown

GE15: Here’s Why The Purple Ink On Your Finger Turns Brown

The silver ions in the indelible ink will turn your finger brown once it is exposed to sunlight.

Melissa Suraya Ismail

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If you have voted for this GE15, have you noticed that the colour of the ink on your finger changes after a while?

No, your finger is not rotting from the outside (hopefully), it’s just a normal chemical reaction from the silver nitrate.

But before that, why do you have to have a stained finger?

What’s with the staining?

The staining of your finger with indelible ink is done to prevent double voting. It serves as a mark to prevent the same person from voting again. You’ll be in serious trouble if you do.

The Election Commission denotes that the finger that needs to be dipped is only the left index finger. It can’t be right even if you’re right-handed, it’s the procedure. This is because the EC will look at the left finger of anyone first, to know if they have voted.

This is what happens when you forgot to wear your gloves at the staining station.
(Credit: TRP)

If for instance, the voter does not have a left index finger due to an accident or any disability, the EC has a procedure to mark the other fingers on the left hand first. If the voter doesn’t have a left hand altogether, only then they can stain their right hand.

What if they do not have hands at all? The EC have procedures for staining a body part for that too.

But for example, if you do have a stain on your right finger, well, maybe there were a lot of people at the time and the clerk made a mistake. You’re one of the people that got away. 😏

It’s chemistry time

Thanks to @Soraonekun and Cheryl Science Education, we now have a clearer view of why our finger magically turns brown after a few moments in the sun.

To put it down simply, the finger is stained purple because of the violet ink. But inside the ink, there’s a compound that will turn the finger brown once exposed to sunlight. Tada! Magic.

(Credit: Cheryl Science Education / Facebook)

According to Cheryl, there’s about 10 to 20% of silver nitrate and violet ink in the election ink. The silver nitrate (AgNO3) reacts with the salt (sodium chloride, NaCl) in our skin to form silver chloride (AgCl).

Now, this magical silver chloride will be broken down by the ultraviolet rays in the sunlight into metallic silver on the skin which is brown. These small brown particles do not reflect light, but it absorbs it so it looks brown on our skin.

This reaction is the same with our photochromic glasses. It’s those glasses with the magic lenses that turn from clear to black in a blink of an eye. When it’s exposed to sunlight, the silver ion in the lens will undergo a similar reaction with the ink, turning dark brown or black.

It will fade off naturally

The mark left on our finger will only disappear once our external skin is replaced. This means that we’ll just have to wait till our dead skin cells get replaced with our new cells.

The ink on the skin usually just lasts for about 2-4 days. But on the fingernail or cuticle, it could last until four weeks, depending on each individual. If you do a lot of house chores and work with bleaching agents, it might fade off faster.

The ink is squishy?

Fun Fact: There’s a sponge inside the orange bottle.

Inside the orange ink bottle, there’s actually a sponge inside it along with the ink. That’s why it feels squishy when you put your finger in – it’s not all just liquid in there.

It’s an innovation not to let the process gets messier. And even if the bottle accidentally topples over, the ink won’t splash out like a murder crime scene.

(Credit: TRP, levishion / Reddit)

You actually have to push your left index finger deep into the bottom of the bottle so that the ink would stain at least one segment of your finger, not just a tiny stain at the tip.

Hence, that’s why the EC clerk holds your hand at the staining station – they’re not that romantic, it’s just procedure.


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