Manila Bulletin – Preparing for 2022 – Cleansing the voter database

By Atty. Gregorio Y. Larrazabal | Manila Bulletin

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Last week we did the second of a series on what needs to be done to prepare for the May, 2022, presidential election.

Below is the link to last week’s article for reference:

Promoting participatory elections — preparing for 2022

Today we look at the things that will have an impact, not only for the May, 2022, presidential elections, but all future election.

1. Strengthening of the mechanisms within Comelec.

Comelec has on several occasions conducted Strategic planning sessions. This includes the development of pillars which would help institutionalize the improvements and reforms aimed at improving the conduct of the electoral exercises.

Generally, after every electoral exercise, there is a post-election conference where an assessment is conducted by Comelec senior officials of the just-concluded electoral exercise. For the May 13, 2019, elections, one is scheduled this July. A possible variation to the current system is for conferences to be more inclusive by having the different stakeholders participate. These include the various political parties and private sector partners of Comelec. This is in line with last week’s proposal for more inclusiveness with the various stakeholders, thereby having a more wholistic assessment of the electoral exercise and help make the next elections better.

2. Vetting of the voter database.

In every election, the most crucial cog in ensuring a credible election is having a verified and updated voter database.

Procedurally, the voter database is updated every quarter during registration period when the Election Registration Board (ERB), a three-person committee headed by the city/municipal election officer, meets. It’s the act of the ERB confirming the applications for registration which makes an individual a voter, not when the person fills up the voter registration form.

Ideally, the voter database is updated through several methods:

1. When voters who have not voted in two successive elections are delisted and removed from the active voters list. Barangay elections are considered in determining whether a voter has failed to vote twice. In the event that a voter has been deactivated, he/she has to apply for re-activation.

2. When the office of the local civil register submits a list of people who have died, and should be removed from the voter database. However, experience has taught us that the reporting system has not been as effective in delisting people who have died. In many instances, there are still reports of people who have died but continue to vote. Comelec has to revisit this and make improvements to lessen the chances of people who have died to ensure they will be delisted. There are several policy and procedural changes that can be made. I’ve drawn up some recommendations and will discuss this in the future. I should point out that ultimately this concern can be addressed. There are several steps in the process, including election day itself, where concerned individuals may prevent unauthorized individuals from voting for deceased voters.

3. When courts issue an order excluding a voter from the list of voters. Under the law, a court may order a voter to be excluded from the list of voters. The court which has jurisdiction over exclusion cases are the Municipal and Metropolitan Trial Courts, the decision of which can be appealed to the Regional Trial Court.

4. AFIS (Automated Fingerprint Identification System) used by Comelec in determining whether an individual has two or more registration records which has been in use since the early 2000’s. There have been countless of voter registration records expunged from the database using this system. This was an enhancement made from the dated system of using demographics to determine multiple registrations of a voter.

5. When the Comelec receives the decision of the various ERBs regarding the applications for registration, modification of registration information, and transfers of voter registration, and is uploaded to the central voter database.

However, the most efficient method of cleansing the voter database is by conducting a general registration. The last time this was done was in 2001-2003. It would be good to revisit this and conduct a general registration. With the advances of technology, an enhanced system of voter verification can be utilized in the conduct of the registration. The end result would be to have a more secure and vetted voter database. Timing on when to implement it is key, as there is a barangay election scheduled in 2020 and the presidential election is in 2022.

Next week, we’ll discuss the following topics:

1. Assessment of the Technology Fair hosted by the DICT.

2. Empowering the Comelec field officials.

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