Comelec pushes early voting, internet polls

Robertzon Ramirez - The Philippine Star
Comelec pushes early voting, internet polls
Voters in Tondo, Manila cast their votes at the Magat Salamat Elementary School on May 9.
Philstar.com / Deejae Dumlao

MANILA, Philippines — Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman George Garcia yesterday urged Congress to pass a bill that would allow early voting for the so-called vulnerable sector and internet voting for overseas Filipino voters.

In a recent radio interview, Garcia noted that the Comelec has already created the “emergency accessible polling precinct” in previous elections that served as special polling precincts for the vulnerable sector, such as the elderly, persons with special needs, pregnant women and indigenous peoples (IPs).

“However, these are not enough,” he said in Filipino.

“That is why the Comelec is really pushing that for the elderly, senior citizens, vulnerable sector, like those with disabilities, and IPs, we’re hoping that Congress can pass a measure that will allow for early voting,” he added.

The Comelec chief explained that the early voting concept for those in the vulnerable sector would follow the same concept as that of the local absentee voting, where voters would be allowed to cast their votes a week earlier than the actual election day.

He said it would be difficult for those in the vulnerable sector to join the regular voters.

Aside from this, Garcia said they are also asking Congress to pass a bill that would allow internet voting for overseas Filipino voters, as he emphasized that the voter turnout for overseas voters is very low in previous elections.

“For overseas Filipinos, we have thought of internet voting. This means that instead of going to the embassies, they could be allowed to vote at our consulates using the internet,” he added.

The Comelec chief expressed hope that internet voting, which is allowed in some countries, will help the poll body encourage more overseas Filipino voters to participate in future elections.

VCMs to be replaced

Meanwhile, the Comelec will replace all 98,000 vote counting machines (VCM) that were used in previous elections as the poll body is now studying to procure new machines that will be used for future elections, especially the May 2025 midterm polls.

In a Viber message, Garcia said they are now studying to donate the VCMs either to the Department of Education or to the Philippine Regulatory Commission as part of their plans to replace all the 98,000 old machines.

He added that they wanted the new machines to provide an auditing system, which will show voters that their votes were correctly counted and correctly proclaim the winning candidates, contrary to their existing machines that only provide a receipt of the votes cast.

It is difficult to refurbish the old machines, according to the Comelec chief, as he emphasized that their parts can no longer be repaired.

“The Commission has decided to get rid of old machines that we used, especially the 2022 elections,” Garcia said in Filipino a radio interview.

“We can start by using new machines to ensure that not only voters know that their votes are counted and the right candidates are proclaimed, but also there is a capacity to audit within the system, within the machine,” he added.

The new safeguard is only one of the features that they are studying to be included in the new machines, but Garcia stood firm that they are already decided to replace the old machines with new ones, regardless of who the service provider is.

“That is what we are studying now, but we are sure that the machines that we will be using in the coming elections are different so that voters can also ensure themselves of the answer to the question, ‘Was my vote counted?’” he said.

Asked if the machines would still come from Smartmatic, Garcia answered that they are not after which company would provide them, as he clarified that everything would undergo a massive and transparent procurement process based on the company’s terms of reference, type, style and features of the machines that it could provide.

The plan to replace the machines will be on the agenda during the election summit that will be held next month to be attended by all Comelec stakeholders, watchdogs and other organizations that play important roles during elections, according to Garcia.

He said they have also invited President Marcos so that he will be informed of the budget that the Comelec will need should they push through with its plans; Vice President and Education Secretary Sara Duterte, with whom Comelec officials will discuss teachers’ participation during elections, and Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri and Speaker Martin Romualdez with whom the poll body intends to discuss laws that will be needed for the procurement of the new machines.

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