By Robertzon Ramirez | The Philippine Star
MANILA, Philippines — With almost a year to go before the 2022 national polls, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) will implement some changes in the campaign and voting practices to ensure the safety of the public amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In an interview with “The Chiefs” over Cignal TV’s One News, Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said their planning now revolves around conducting the elections under pandemic conditions.
Jimenez said they are not ruling out allowing “in person” campaigning, but with restrictions to ensure that social distancing measures and other health protocols would be followed.
“Obviously, we can’t ban outright in-person campaign, but we will have restrictions. These are mass gatherings. One of the more effective, and I think impactful prohibitions that we will be pushing forward is to ban eating at rallies,” he said.
“We will also restrict the number of people at the gatherings because obviously this is a mass gathering and we must maintain social distancing, and then the wearing of face mask requirements,” he added.
Jimenez said they are also studying the possibility of holding the elections for two days so as to limit the number of voters inside polling precincts and polling centers.
“It’s not a preferred solution,” he stressed.
Jimenez explained that two-day election is something they have to study carefully since the ballot boxes should not stay at polling places overnight.
The idea, he said, “is still not off the table.”
He, however, emphasized that the most preferred option at this time is single-day longer-hour voting. This may involve extending election hours to 12 hours from the usual eight.
If single-day longer-hour elections push through, Jimenez said they may have to propose that teachers get deployed in two shifts.
But even if the teachers work in two shifts, logistics would still be a big challenge as 330 teachers would be required for each of the targeted 110,000 polling precincts, he said.
“The multiple days of voting plan is not yet off the table, but we are leaning towards the single-day longer-hours because that’s the easiest way, since it’s there already. And the Comelec has always traditionally had the power to extend the voting hours,” Jimenez said.
He also said campaign expenditure on social media would be difficult to regulate, as there is no law governing it.
“The last election, if we did not expand the meaning of broadcast to social media, we would not be able to regulate social media in any way, but try to find a law that says social media is part of broadcast media and you will not find anything because it does not exist,” he said.
Asked about voter registration, Jimenez said that they have already recorded around 1.6 million new registrants and another 1.2 million to come from the SK registrants, which means that they are close to the target of around four million registrants.
Jimenez is confident that the Comelec would be able to reach its target as they still have until Sept. 30 to complete voters’ registration.