By Dona Z. Pazzibugan | Inquirer.net
MANILA, Philippines — More than 15 months before the May 9, 2022, elections, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) plans to buy more vote-counting machines (VCMs) in a bid to reduce the possibility of infection with the deadly novel coronavirus.
“Our initial plan is to have at least five voters at a time casting their votes (so) we will need to increase the number of VCMs that we will be using,” Comelec chair Sheriff Abas said in an interview on Wednesday.
Each clustered precinct is currently assigned one VCM that can accommodate 800 to 1,000 voters.
Abas said Comelec was thinking of ways to prevent the clustering of people in polling precincts for long periods of time.
“During elections, people are gathered inside voting centers or schools. That is a really huge hurdle for us. We will continue to assess how we can prevent infections just in case the pandemic remains during that time,” he said.
Comelec deployed 97,345 VCMs in the last midterm elections held in 2019 and the poll body intends to use the same Smartmatic machines for next year’s presidential, congressional and local elections, and allocated P660.7 million for their refurbishment.
Aside from the time people spend in polling places, Comelec is also concerned at the dangers of political rallies and announced last Tuesday that it was considering a ban on face-to-face campaigning with Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez predicting “a change in the campaigning landscape.”
“Activities, like giving out materials or going out or talking to people face-to-face for campaign purposes—that’s gonna change. Door-to-door campaigns might be prohibited,” Jimenez said in a television interview.
Register to vote
While the poll body has not made a decision on the matter, Jimenez said the Comelec would be coordinating with the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases.
Meanwhile, the Comelec encouraged voters to qualified Filipinos to register as voters and announced that the poll body would accept applications from Tuesday to Saturday.
Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon said in a post in Twitter on Wednesday that the poll body decided to add Saturday in the registration schedule to allow office employees to register from Tuesday to Saturday.
Comelec does not accept applications on Mondays as the day has been designated as disinfection day, Guanzon added.
The Comelec has so far recorded about 1.3 million voter applications as of Monday, according to Jimenez. The poll body is eyeing to have four million new voters for the elections next year, with voter registration ending on Sept. 30.
The poll body has only seven months and 26 days before the Sept. 30 deadline.
Before the pandemic, the Comelec scheduled the voter registration for next year’s elections from Jan. 20, 2020 to Sept. 30, 2021. The Sept. 30 deadline has not been extended.
The poll body suspended the registration on March 9, 2020, when the lockdown was imposed.
Those who will visit poll offices should observe COVID-19 health regulations, such as wearing masks and face shields, and observing physical distancing.
To register as a voter, one must be at least 18 years old, a resident of the Philippines for at least one year, and a resident for at least six months before the election of the city or municipality where one intends to vote.
A voter who wishes to transfer residence may also apply with the Comelec office in the new place of residence.
Those with a deactivated registration, usually due to failure to vote for two consecutive elections, may also apply for reactivation.