Comelec, DFA eye online voting for overseas Filipinos

Published January 20, 2021, 8:53 PM

by Vanne Elaine Terrazola

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) are eyeing online voting as an alternative means of voting for overseas Filipinos.

DFA-Overseas Voting Secretariat acting chairman Edgardo Castro said on Wednesday that a mock election will be conducted in all international posts of the Philippine government to test whether or not online overseas voting will be a viable option for Filipino voters abroad amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are planning, in collaboration with Comelec to have a test, mock voting sometime end of this month or early February. Depending on the result of that experiment, we would be in a better position to assess the existing technologies,” Castro said during the Senate electoral reforms committee’s hearing on the government’s preparations for the 2022 elections during the pandemic.

Conducting the mock online elections in all Philippine posts “will also be our way of assessing realistically on where the technology would work”, he added.

Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez confirmed the plan, saying there have been previous mock elections using an online voting system.

“We see that there are a lot of security measures in place and which can be put in place by different suppliers. Kaya nga po susubukan natin (That’s why we are testing it),” Jimenez said.

Jimenez, however, stressed the need for legislation from Congress to authorize the Comelec to conduct online overseas voting for the country’s elections. “Right now, the authority of the Comelec is limited to testing out alternative means of voting,” he said.

The Comelec and the DFA are in talks with four potential suppliers about the online voting program, Castro said. The Comelec is currently finalizing schedule of the mock elections.

During the hearing, Senator Francis Tolentino also appealed to the Comelec to make sure that Filipino seafarers will be able to vote in the 2022 elections.

“Comelec should look into the plight of our seafarers. If my records and recollection would prove me right, I think we supply a third or a fourth or more than a fourth of seafarers around the world. And the seafarers cannot vote because while they’re at sea, they’re being required to go to the nearest consular post to vote,” Tolentino raised.

He said most seafarers could not make it to the 30-day voting period at the consular posts especially when they are at sea.

“Ang laki po ng nawawalang boto at sila po ‘yong gustong bumoto (We lose a significant number of votes and they want to vote)…Can Comelec devise a method on how we should allow the seafarers to exercise their right of suffrage?”

Jimenez said that at present, there is a so-called “Vote Anywhere” policy for Filipino seafarers, although he echoed Tolentino’s concern.

He said online voting is “one way of meeting that need”.

Tolentino also suggested to the Comelec to deputize Filipino captains of Philippine-flagged vessels, which are considered part of the country’s territory under the law, to oversee the casting of ballots by Filipino seafarers under their authority while at sea.

“Our existing laws would even show that even ship captains are allowed to conduct marriage ceremonies, etc. So there are considerations given to a ship captain. A Filipino vessel is part of Philippine territory, and for sure, a methodology can be devised that would allow them to vote within the Philippine territory,” he said.