Editorial: Improving voter registration

·3 min read

To exercise their right to vote, many Filipinos sacrificed so they could be enlisted or reactivated before extended registration for the 2022 election was officially closed by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) last Oct. 30.

The Comelec aims for 65 million Filipinos being eligible for the national and local elections that will fill over 18,000 positions, according to the Philippine News Agency (PNA) last Sept. 29.

The recently concluded registration of voters is historic for being the first to be conducted in a pandemic. After initially resisting to extend the registration, originally set for Sept. 30, the Comelec was compelled by lawmakers to extend by a month the registration, which had been postponed several times by the community lockdowns imposed to curb the rise of coronavirus disease (Covid-19) cases since 2020.

The extension of voter registration was intended to prevent disenfranchisement, the denial of citizens’ right to vote.

While the Comelec may have met its target of 65 million Filipinos eligible to participate in the 2022 election, lessons drawn from the concluded registration must be used to improve future processes.

Disenfranchisement of voters, deactivated and new, cannot be ruled out because of several setbacks in the process, both in-person and online. Since the law does not allow first-time voters to register online, many applicants turned up at Comelec offices and satellite registration sites, only to find out after waiting for hours that the maximum number of walk-in applicants has been reached for the day and the ones unable to get a priority number have to return on another day for another attempt.

Due to pandemic restrictions, registration sites had to prioritize a limited number of slots per day. As the Oct. 30 deadline approached, many citizens camped outside the satellite registration sites as early as midnight to get a priority number. Netizens posting on social media attested that it required several attempts to return to a registration site and join a queue for hours before they were finally registered or reactivated.

How many potential voters were defeated by frustration and personal sacrifices at the cost of their work, foregone income, or risk to health, and decided not to continue the attempt to register or reactivate?

It is ironic that seemingly the same problems bedeviled registration process for vaccination as protection against Covid-19, availment of the national identification (I. D.) card, and voting.

In theory, the daily ceiling on the number of citizens to be registered is intended to prevent congestion, chaos, and health risks in the pandemic. In actual situations, failures in implementing an appointment system and managing people resulted in crowds already forming just to get priority numbers or queuing for hours before being informed that the ceiling for persons to be served have been filled for that day.

The Comelec has to improve its digital presence to enable and facilitate registration, particularly in reactivating voters that were removed from the voters’ list after failing to participate in two successive elections.

Over six million voters required reactivation, with Comelec officials saying they were exploring if automatic online reactivation is possible.

Marco, whose work in Manila was a factor in his being deactivated as a voter in Lapu-Lapu City, submitted requirements for his reactivation, as directed on the official Comelec website. A Comelec employee called him a few days before Oct. 30 to require his physical presence at the Lapu-Lapu site for his biometrics. Difficulty in securing leave from work and the expenses entailed to return to Cebu resulted in Marco deciding not to reactivate his voter’s status.

Improving online/virtual registration supplements citizens’ access to physical/in-person registration to ensure that citizens are not disenfranchised from their rights and obligations.

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