Comelec sets rules for detainee voting in 2013 polls

By Anna Valmero

MANILA CITY, METRO MANILA—Preparations are underway for the registration of inmates who are eligible to vote in the May 2013 midterm polls, according to the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

Under Comelec Resolution No. 9371, detainee voters who are of legal age and have stayed inside detention centers for at least six months prior to May 2013 can file their voter applications via satellite registration.

The registration centers will be located inside detention centers and jails managed by respective election officers in the city or town where the jail is located.

The satellite registration may last from one to five days, depending on the number of detainees qualified to vote, said Comelec spokesman James Jimenez.

As for registered detainee voters who cast the ballot in the 2010 national polls, they can update their information in case of transfer of jail facility.

On Election Day, special polling places will be established in detention centers or jails with at least 50 registered detainee voters. The special polling place will be manned by the Special Board of Election Inspectors (SBEI).

As a general rule, there will be one special polling place for the first 100 detainee voters. An additional one will be established for every additional 100 detainee voters, thus two special polling places for 200 inmate voters and so on.

Under the resolution, election officers are mandated to coordinate with the jail warden in the provincial, city, municipal jail or other correctional and detention centers to determine the number of qualified voter applicant among the detainees, said Jimenez.

The number of qualified detainee voters will also help determine the number of security to be deployed in the area and voter registration machines (VRM) to be used.

There are two ways for detainees to vote on election day: first, they will cast their ballot at a special polling place set up inside the jails, or they can vote at regular precincts through escorted voting.

If there are no special polling place inside jail facilities, detainee voters must obtain court orders allowing them to vote in the regular polling place where they are registered. The detainees will be escorted by the security personnel of the detention facility administration.

As eligible voters, detainees can review and discuss the platforms with candidates, who will then be allowed to campaign inside detention facilities.

Detainee votes are crucial for local candidates particularly to break close ties between top contenders, explained Comelec commissioner Rene Sarmiento,who handled the committee on detainee voting in the May 2010 polls.

Detainees who can register and vote include those in jail awaiting or undergoing trial, and those serving a prison term of less than a year and not convicted for crime against national security.

Sarmiento hopes that for the 2013 polls, more candidates will include platforms for detainee voters, who were among the most disenfranchised voting groups alongside the youth, elderly, indigenous peoples' groups and persons with disabilities.

During the first nationwide automated polls in the Philippines on May 2010, some 50,000 inmates registered to vote and about half of the total cast their ballot—the first time in the country.

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