The Manila Times – Digitally transform the voter registration process

By Lito Averia | The Manila Times

JAN. 20, 2020 marks the resumption of the registration of voters, some 28 months before the May 9, 2022 national and local elections. The registration period will end on Sept. 30, 2021. (See https://comelec.gov.ph/r=VoterRegistration/PressReleases/15Jan2020pr)

New voters who will be 18 years old on May 9, 2022 may register. Registered voters who wish to transfer their registration, those whose registration had been deactivated by reason of their failure to vote in at least two succeeding elections, and those who wish to correct certain entries in their registration record may file their applications during the present registration period.

Earlier, or on Nov. 13, 2019, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) issued a press release announcing the resumption of the registration of voters for Filipino citizens living abroad who will be at least 18 years of age on May 9, 2022. (https://comelec.gov.ph/?r=OverseasVoting/PressReleases/13Nov2019pr) The same press release stated that overseas-registered voters could vote for senators and party-list representatives. A correction in the announcement may be necessary since Republic Act (RA) 9189 as amended by RA 10590, or the “Overseas Absentee Voting Law,” provides that “All citizens of the Philippines abroad, who are not otherwise disqualified by law, at least eighteen (18) years of age on the day of elections, may vote for president, vice president, senators and party-list representatives, as well as in all national referenda and plebiscites.” The registration period also ends on Sept. 30, 2021.

Registrants will have to appear in person in designated registration centers to file their application and for biometrics capture.

The voter registration process needs to be digitally transformed. Digital transformation is a popular buzzword in today’s automation activities, which simply refers to the use of new and emerging digital technologies, including cloud technologies, in the execution of business processes and delivery of services.

The Comelec had, in the past, been generating “computerized voters’ lists,” which were used during elections. This gives an impression that voter registration and voter registration management is fully automated. This is far from correct.

Voter registration currently involves the digital capture of biometrics, photo and handwritten signature, while voter registration data is captured on paper and subsequently encoded. The process is susceptible to encoding errors and the possibility of mismatching of encoded data with the digitally captured biometrics, photo and handwritten signature of the voter.

To get on the road to digital transformation, voter registration application forms may be provided online. A voter registrant, using any electronic device — laptop, tablet or smart phone — may fill up the form online and submit the same electronically to the Comelec. This registration system will have to include an appointment system. As has been observed in previous registration activities at the Comelec offices or even in satellite registration locations, the Comelec can only accept a finite number of applications a day. The appointment system will help manage in scheduling the appearance of voter registrants before the Comelec’s registration officer for biometrics, photo and handwritten signature capture. This will help avoid long queues typically seen towards the end of the registration period at local Comelec offices. Required supporting documents may be presented to the registration officer at the time when the voter registrant appears before him on the appointed date.

The Comelec should also take the opportunity to cleanse the voter registration database to ensure completeness and accuracy and resolve certain problems encountered on Election Day. There were cases of voters unable to find their names on the voters’ lists on election day due to the deactivation of voters’ registration after failing to vote in at least two successive elections or as a result of reconfiguration of the clustering of precincts or for other unreported reasons. In 2019, there were reports of names of deceased voters still appearing in the voters’ lists.

In 2019, the Comelec launched a new online precinct finder a week before Election Day. But, there were several reports that the website was inaccessible or not working the day before and during Election Day. This early, the poll body should review the precinct finder and ensure that it will work for the coming May 9, 2022 elections, including ensuring its security and the protection of personal data.

It will be recalled, too, that in the 2019 elections the poll body deployed voter registration verification machines, which have the capability for voter registration, but were solely used for voter verification in some pilot areas. There were reports that the machines failed to work or malfunctioned. In some, names of registered voters could not be found. Will the poll body deploy the same machines or a similar system in the coming 2022 national and local elections? If the poll body intends to do just that, it better start preparing the system now and conduct the appropriate tests to ensure that the problems encountered in 2019 will not happen again.

Cleaning up the existing voter registration database should be done separately from the registration of new voters or updating of voter records. The voter records captured or updated during the exercise may be temporarily isolated from existing voter records.

In the meantime, the current registration of voters excludes the province of Palawan, except Puerto Princesa City, because of the conduct of a plebiscite on May 11, 2020, which will determine if the people of Palawan will agree to divide the province into three districts.

Voter registration is likely to be resumed at a later date in certain parts or the whole of Batangas and Cavite due to the calamity following the eruption of Taal Volcano.

 

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