‘You cannot fool all the people all the time’
BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Babe Romualdez (The Philippine Star) - May 12, 2019 - 12:00am

Elections can bring out either the best or the worst in people. There are those who would volunteer time, money and resources to campaign for their candidate without expecting something in return, while there are those who see the elections as an opportunity to enrich themselves as they jack up costs for election-related products and services.

 Some candidates prefer to focus on their credentials and accomplishments to attract voters, while there are those who resort to mudslinging and negative campaigning against political opponents because they think this will give them the winning edge. In the Philippines, no candidate ever loses; if one didn’t win, he will claim he was cheated. Since time immemorial, that’s been usually the claim of losers.

 But with information being readily available now, thanks to advancements in information technology, plus the fact that social media makes sharing so much faster and easier, it’s becoming more and more difficult to get away with election shenanigans or make people believe preposterous claims and comments.

 Unfortunately, there are those who will always try to undermine the credibility of the elections, like what is happening with the overseas absentee voting (OAV). Although there were problems encountered for the OAV such as the delay in sending out the voting packets, there are those who are trying to discredit the process by imputing imagined irregularities, trying hard to condition the mindset of the voters – implying that the delay in distributing the packets was deliberate to “disenfranchise” Filipino overseas voters and deny them the right to vote.

A classic example is the “professional troublemakers” for hire who pester the Philippine consulates to complain, including this longtime so-called leader who claimed that he had not received his voting packet. This perennial rabble-rouser conveniently forgot that he put his address as “care of” the consulate. So the whole time, the ballot was at the consulate just waiting to be claimed. Stunts like this remind me of the famous quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln: “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” If I might add, “you end up being the fool.”

Here are the facts: the total number of registered land-based overseas absentee voters across the US and Caribbean territories under the jurisdiction of the Philippine embassy is 224,293. Of this number, 37,165 are registered in Washington, DC (including the Caribbean territories). 

During the 2016 presidential elections, the OAV turnout in DC was 30.5 percent or 8,581 votes cast out of the 28,138 who registered. Based on the receipt of ballots, the turnout for the OAV in DC could be around 13.5 percent or about 5,000 votes cast out of the registered 37,165 voters. While the turnout during midterm elections is traditionally lower compared to presidential elections, there are other contributing factors, such as the transfer of voters from their registered addresses, or that they are not encouraged to send their ballots by mail because they end up having to pay postage – which can be expensive especially if they use an express mail courier. 

Clearly, there has to be a better way to conduct the overseas absentee voting in order to increase the participation of overseas Filipinos, especially the seafarers who are out at sea most of the time and therefore have little or no time to go to a Philippine embassy or consulate to register and vote.  

Their situation was accurately explained in an email by a seafarer captain named Victor Alviola who is batting for an electronic registration and voting system that would allow seafarers (and land-based Filipino overseas workers for that matter) to register online, download ballots and cast their votes electronically.  

“The rules and procedures for registration abroad are to visit the Philippine embassy or consulate offices nearest their region, present a seaman’s book and accomplish an OAV form from the COMELEC. But what if there’s no Philippine embassy/consulate in the country where their ships are presently docked? And if there is, what if it is located too far from the harbor? Aware of the limited time in port, Filipino seamen will not attempt to travel several hours away from their ships just to register as OAV lest they will be left behind and be charged with desertion, dereliction of duty and lose their jobs,” Alviola pointed out.  

Aside from that, seafarers have irregular itineraries so it is difficult to provide a forwarding address where election paraphernalia can be delivered. Moreover, there are no mailmen traveling in the middle of the oceans to deliver voting packets and collect the accomplished ballots, he added. 

 There is no question that overseas registration and voting should be made easier and more convenient. We clearly need to consider a new digital technology that would allow voters to cast their votes using a mobile app, like the one piloted in the mayoral elections in Denver last Tuesday. The app was made available to members of the military and those living in other counties, who were able to vote using their smartphones. The system, which was developed by a tech start-up based in Massachusetts, was also used by West Virginia during the US 2018 midterm elections. 

Aside from enabling military personnel deployed overseas to vote, advocates of mobile voting say this could also benefit people with disabilities, thereby increasing the percentage of voter turnout. 

Let’s face it: If we want more overseas Filipinos to exercise their right to vote, we have to make it easier and more convenient for them. 

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Email: babeseyeview@gmail.com

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