Voter registration: To extend, or not to extend

Like other government agencies that have recurring activities to implement as mandated by law, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) did not foresee the pandemic coming.

The enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) and the various level of restrictions in several places in the country to stem the rising COVID-19 infection rate necessarily slowed down the poll body’s preparations for the national elections next May, 2022.

First among the activities in connection with poll preparations is the registration of new voters, voter transfers and reactivations, which had been delayed for more than five months due to the intermittent lockdowns.  When registration was finally reopened in the first week of September, hordes of new registrants swamped the Comelec offices in towns and cities, including the special counters set up in big malls in Metro Manila.

The enthusiasm of young, first-time voters to register and participate in the coming political exercise was noteworthy, but there had to be a cut-off since registration machines using biometrics and other computerized procedures have limits as to the number of individuals that can be processed.

This is the reason, as Comelec spokesman James Jimenez explained, why the poll body had to set a definite Sept. 30, 2021 deadline for the registration of voters.

Meanwhile, there is an ardent request from youth groups, lawmakers, netizens, and the National Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) for the Comelec to extend this deadline for one month, or on Oct. 31.

In a recent online hearing, the House Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms adopted House Resolutions 2128 and 2139, which call on the Comelec to extend the voter registration for the 2022 polls to deter massive voter disenfranchisement amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The resolution noted that with the five-and-a-half-month suspension of voter registration across the country, as well as the month-long suspensions in areas under the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) and modified ECQ (MECQ), Comelec has the “prerogative” to set the deadline of voter registration on a later date but before Jan. 9, 2022.

Proponents of the request have cited instances wherein Comelec had set deadlines that were on or beyond Oct. 31 of the year before the elections.  This shows that the poll body, working overtime and in a cooperative manner among its various offices and personnel, can very well prepare the final list of voters even with a one-month extension of the registration process.  We recognize the Comelec’s need to complete the Project of Precincts (POP) early but a one-month extension will not unduly hamper its preparations, if good time-and-motion management is observed.

Already, the malls have offered full cooperation in accommodating voter registrants not just during weekends but also during weekdays, and the Comelec has added additional satellite registration centers nationwide and overseas.

These developments augur well for a more inclusive conduct of the elections next year, with disenfranchisement and disenchantment of voters being reduced to a minimum.

The more Filipinos are admitted into the roster of voters and actually filling out their ballots to vote, the stronger our democracy will be in the coming years.