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The perils of overseas absentee voting

BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Babe Romualdez (The Philippine Star) - April 28, 2019 - 12:00am

Over the past few weeks, the Philippine embassy in Washington and the consulates general all over the United States have been conducting awareness and information campaigns encouraging registered Filipino voters to cast their ballots for the 2019 midterm elections. The overseas absentee voting (OAV) commenced on April 13 and will continue until May 13 (6 p.m. Philippine Standard Time).

There are 224,293 land-based voters across the US and the Caribbean territories under the jurisdiction of the Philippine embassy in Washington while all over the world, a total of 1,882,173 overseas Filipinos registered for the 2019 midterm elections. Historically, midterm elections have a lower turnout of voters compared to presidential elections, but still, it would be good if a bigger number of overseas Filipinos would exercise their right to vote and participate in shaping the future of our nation.

For the OAV, the system that has been in place is for the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to send out the official ballots to the Philippine embassy in Washington and the different posts all over the United States. I assume this is the same practice for other places where there are registered overseas Filipino voters. 

In the US, the mode of voting is via postal, which means that official ballots will be sent through mail and returned to the embassy or consulate where the voter is registered. Voters also have the option of personally picking up their ballot, but only a small number actually do this, which is totally understandable. It is obviously more convenient to receive them by mail.

Unfortunately, we are currently encountering quite a number of problems in sending out the voting packets that contain the following: official ballot, instructions on how the vote should be accomplished, the Comelec-provided envelope, and paper seal. For starters, the ballots have to be manually inserted in envelopes, registered and numbered before they are sent individually to the mailing addresses provided by the voters during registration. 

As it is, our staff is already overloaded since they have to act as special board of election inspectors on top of their regular consular work. Nonetheless, the staff has been putting the voting packets together over the past week and a half. The real problem however in the delay is that the Comelec has not been able to send enough funds to cover the expensive cost of postage.

Our hands are tied since under the election law, no government agency or department can advance payment for any election-related expenses. All must be covered by funds provided by the Comelec. We have already communicated this to our friend, Commissioner Rowena Guanzon, who acted on this problem quickly. We commend her for this.

In some places in the Caribbean that fall under our jurisdiction, our consul general Rene Villa will literally bring the official ballots for local distribution to places like the Turks and Caicos, the Cayman Islands and other areas where there are registered Filipino voters. The ballots will be collected by the embassy at designated venues during specific schedules.

It’s understandable why the Comelec wants the OAV to be convenient by having the ballots mailed to individual voters. However, the process can be very tedious, and there is also the possibility that the votes could become lost in transit – which is one of the perils of overseas voting. 

Apparently, other embassies and consulates are also experiencing problems regarding the overseas absentee voting. According to reports, the number of ballots sent to Russia was not enough, which could leave voters disenfranchised if the rest of the ballots are not sent on time. 

In Saudi Arabia, a delay at the Bureau of Customs caused the disenfranchisement of some voters while in Rome, two official ballots were found in the election packet set to the voter. Some labor groups are also complaining about the cost of postage in sending back the OAV ballots to the respective embassy or consulate, saying that “the right to vote should be free.” 

Still others expressed concern that some might not be able to receive the ballots because they are in transit or they may have moved to a different address since their registration, and for some reason were unable to update their voter’s record.

I am certain these problems will be resolved by Comelec Commissioners Guanzon and Antonio Kho, who have been working hard to come up with corrective measures on issues that could negatively impact efforts to enhance the turnout of voters for the midterm elections.

Tragedy and disaster preparedness

The recent tragedy in Sri Lanka should convince people that now more than ever, we have to be prepared. Extremists launched coordinated bombings in three Catholic churches and several hotels during Easter Sunday, killing over 250 people – which is another grim reminder of what can happen to any country.

Last January, twin bombs hit a Roman Catholic Church in Jolo, Sulu, with ISIS claiming responsibility for the attack. No country is exempted from these extremists who target innocent people.

People should also be prepared in case of natural disasters, which is what happened in Pampanga where an earthquake caused the collapse of a supermarket building. Natural disasters can strike like a “thief in the night.” We should all be ready because tragedy, whether man made or natural, could happen to any country at any time.

More than ever, our relationship with trusted allies like Japan, Australia and the United States is extremely important. Not only do they have the resources but also the intelligence network to help us in preventing or minimizing tragic events.

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Email: babeseyeview@gmail.com

2019 MIDTERM ELECTIONS OVERSEAS ABSENTEE VOTING ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH SRI LANKA
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