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No room for error

Just how inefficient was the recently concluded voter’s registration process for the 2022 national elections?

Last September 28, I went to have myself registered to vote for the coming national elections and luckily finished within three hours. Others, however, had to wait longer. Personally, it never felt right that voter registration takes this long. While some argue that its necessity should render our qualms unnecessary, we are still in the middle of a pandemic. People should not be exposed to crowded places for long periods of time, nor do we have a risk appetite to queue for hours while in close proximity to others. Public clamor for this may have been ongoing, but it is due time for the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to up its game and to ensure more streamlined processes now that the 2022 elections are upon us.

Even finding a registration site remains a burden. In a failed attempt to utilize online platforms for voter registration, time slots for appointments at the local Comelec offices become fully booked easily on their website. The only alternative it leaves us with would be the nearby satellite voter registration sites, of which there is only one where I am situated. To say that the lack of alternatives for Caloocan, the third most populated city in the National Capital Region (NCR), is disappointing is an understatement. Meanwhile, Quezon City has nearly twice the population of Caloocan but has 13 different malls that accommodate the same process. 

There shouldn’t be a question of why people have limited options to register in the first place. Comelec could have created a system that shares data among different sites so that people can register anywhere while data on voting precincts will still reflect where voters currently reside. This limits voters on where they could register and at the same time causes already overcrowded sites to be even more congested.

This concern, however, pales in comparison to the risk of exposure to the SARS-CoV-2 virus with the long lines of people who rarely observe physical distancing. Even though a good number of voters waited until the last minute, this should not be an excuse for the lack of crowd control and coordination. As this has been a trend in the past years, there could have been anticipation on the side of Comelec as well.

Another issue in this inefficient system is the continued use of paper in the registration process. My registration forms were held by five Comelec officials, who themselves have held countless other registration forms from countless individuals. This becomes an opportunity for transmission of the virus as it could be gotten from surfaces that a COVID-19-positive person has coughed or sneezed on. Online alternatives could have been made available, especially for those with smartphones, where data can be retrieved online instead of using paper. Even the stamp pad used for the registration forms did not look like it is being disinfected regularly. This step could have been eliminated entirely when there is already a later step that records your fingerprints digitally during the biometrics capture process.

Five days after voter registration, I started exhibiting symptoms for COVID-19 but tested negative for the virus. Regardless of what outcome it would have been, it is a reminder of the risks that people take just to get registered and just to abide by Comelec’s outdated systems. At the end of the day, the organization should take advantage of technological advancements in data and online platforms so that its voter registration process can be safer and more efficient. For a country heavily influenced by the West, especially in terms of technology, investment in online infrastructure is sorely lacking. It is as if procuring automated machines for voting day is the limit for the Commission. 

The stories of long queues or the lax and inefficient protocols foreshadow what could happen if Comelec botches even its election day plans, with months of preparation boiling down to one voting day. Comelec has no room for error. And even if they did, we should’ve been spared from their negligence.

By Dustin Albert Sy

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