For the 2016 General Elections (GE), the University Student Government (USG) Commission on Elections (COMELEC) is faced with the task of avoiding the complications it experienced last year. It can be remembered that, at the onset of this academic year, the Special Elections had to be held in light of a number of disqualifications, a dismal voter turnout, and the failure of elections in last year’s GE.
This time around, the COMELEC, in trying its best to avoid another series of issues it faced last year, has prepared well for the campaign and election period ahead.
Last year’s GE saw the lowest voter turnout in recent history when only 35.90 percent of the undergraduate student body exercised their right to vote. Prior to the GE, the entire slate of Santugon sa Tawag ng Panahon, majority of Alyansang Tapat sa Lasallista, and an independent candidate were disqualified by the COMELEC due to their failure to submit complete application documents.
This year, the ultimate goal for the COMELEC is to prevent another failure of elections. “We’re going to try our best to reach the turnout that we need,” shares Jhanniz Paloma, COMELEC commissioner for the College of Science. For elections to be successful, voter turnout must reach a minimum of 50 percent plus one of all undergraduate students.
For the past few years, the COMELEC has noticed that many students choose not to involve themselves in the elections. In view of this, Paloma reiterates that intensive publicity is one of COMELEC’s main thrusts this year in order to avoid another failure of elections. “We’ll try our best to have [room to room orientations], posters, and publicity materials, so that we can easily spread information to the students about the upcoming events and the voting period itself,” she describes.
“Since we’re aware from the past elections that students [do not] vote or they choose not [to participate] in the elections, we’re doing our best to encourage them to exercise their right to vote since this is for them as well,” shares COMELEC Commissioner for the College of Business Jan Narelle Domingo.
The COMELEC is also considering an incentive system for this year’s GE, Paloma adds. “We also ask, if possible, for professors [to] give incentives to their students if they have proof that they have voted [in the] elections, or if they attended debate or Miting de Avance events.”
Domingo adds that the unit is also seeking the help of political parties since they have many connections within campus. She emphasizes that the success of the elections relies on not only the COMELEC, but on the entire student body.
Monitoring election-related offenses
In last year’s GE, a number of candidates were deemed ineligible after violating the Memorandum of Agreement and failing to submit the complete requirements on time. This year, the COMELEC is strengthening its countermeasures for violators of the Election Code with the help of student volunteers.
“We have a volunteer seminar for our volunteers where we inform them of the possible violation the parties and the candidates themselves may commit,” Domingo shares, noting that during the seminar, volunteers are made familiar with election-related offenses and the equivalent sanctions of such offenses. “We also encourage them to report any election offenses directly, and we as commissioners try our best to monitor what’s happening during the campaign period,” she adds.
Around 150 volunteers signed up to help in this year’s GE. Despite this number, Paloma and Domingo stress that non-volunteers are still encouraged to report any violations they observe during the elections. “If you see something that’s not right and you know it’s a violation, you can approach us,” Domingo presses.
Every time there is an issue that needs to be addressed, Domingo says that the COMELEC must reach a majority vote of the quorum (two-thirds of the commissioners). “When there are issues or concerns arising, we have to talk among ourselves before we release a statement or a solution. We try to give out solutions as soon as possible,” Paloma notes.
Changes to venues
This year, a significant change in their preparations involves the venues of voting precincts. Due to the academic calendar shift, the GE season, which usually falls on the month of March, now takes place in July and August, which also happens to be the onset of the rainy season. “During March, it doesn’t rain much, so there aren’t too much problems with the venues. [Now], it’s very difficult to find [closed and spacious areas],” Paloma describes.
The venues that COMELEC is considering at the moment are the lobbies of the Henry Sy Sr. Hall, Br. Andrew Gonzalez Hall, and Gokongwei Hall. Paloma describes that the voting areas previously located in open spaces at the Miguel and Velasco walkways cannot be utilized this year because of the high chances of raining. Moreover, due to the construction of the business hubs at the lobby of Yuchengco Hall, the COMELEC is left with fewer options for its voting sites.
The road ahead
The COMELEC has also considered automating the elections for this year, but due to some feasibility issues it will be deferred for next year’s election instead. “We don’t have the time and the system. Plus, most of the computer labs are used as classrooms, so it would be difficult to get them as voting precincts,” says Domingo.
With all their plans and preparations, the COMELEC aims to deliver a spotless election season this year. As GE season occurs, it is important to not only know the candidates running under the banners of yellow and orange. Understanding the COMELEC, the men and women who run the backstage, is also essential in ensuring a clean, fair, and successful round of elections for everyone.