Ramp up voter registration, election preparation efforts

Published May 29, 2021, 12:12 AM

by Manila Bulletin

With less than a year before the next national elections are held on May 9, 2022, what is the state of the Commission on Elections’ preparedness?

There are just four months left before the end of the voter registration period on September 30.  The Comelec is finalizing arrangements with mall management companies so that voter registration can take place during weekends in their facilities — a convenient set-up that would enable more eligible citizens to ensure their participation in the 2022 national elections.

As of last week, the Comelec has received more than three million applications for voter registration. During a recent Senate hearing, a Comelec official said that the target is to register four million new voters, the estimated number of Filipino youth reaching the minimum voting age by 2022.

Senators are taking issue with the Comelec on this target. At the same Senate hearing, the Comelec cited Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) projections that by 2022, there will be 73 million Filipinos who will be aged 18 and above.  Compared with the 58 million total registered voters, this represents a gap of 15 million —- or nearly four times the Comelec’s target to register only four million voters. Thus far, the poll body has not made an official statement to clarify this salient matter.

The Senate electoral reforms and people’s participation committee is proposing new legislation that would expand the coverage of early voting entitlement to include: 9.8 million senior citizens, 9.2 million indigenous peoples (IPs), 2.2 million pregnant women, and 1.7 persons with disability (PWDs). Restrictions on people movement that could persist until the first half of next year — depending on the pace of COVID-19 vaccination nationwide — impel consideration of this proposal. Recall that in the US elections last year, early voting weeks ahead of election day resulted in a record number of voters even in the midst of a crippling pandemic.

Meantime, it is also imperative that the Comelec ride the wave of digital transformation and modernize the voter registration system.  While it is true that there is an iRegistro online system that provides forms that could be filled up, the prospective registrant would have to download the form, accomplish a hard copy then go to the local Comelec office to complete the registration.  Through more than 14 months of quarantine, the poll body does not seem to have considered it a priority to facilitate voter registration.

Moreover, what has the Comelec done to address the issue of physical distancing?  Schools that are used as voting centers would attract mass gatherings.  Good air circulation inside classrooms would also be essential.

A national election is the most vital activity in a democracy.  All eligible voters must be encouraged and enabled to register. The facilities to be used must enable the safe exercise of suffrage. The integrity of vote counting processes must also be guaranteed. With or without a pandemic, the Comelec must ensure the seamless conduct of free and fair elections.