Comelec pushes Internet voting

File photo from COMELEC / Facebook

Commission on Elections chairman George Erwin Garcia on Tuesday reiterated the needed push for Internet voting as a means to ramp up the turnout in overseas voting during a forum titled “Beyond Suffrage: A Forum on Women and Overseas Voting” led by the Department of Foreign Affairs-Office of the Overseas Voting Secretariat.

In his speech, Garcia urged implementing agencies, including the DFA which primarily handles OAV activities to promote newer technologies as it is already allowed by law and that It could bring significant results to the country’s overseas voting records.

“It is our conclusion that we should no longer wait for a law to be enacted before Comelec would be able to venture into Internet voting or electronic voting,” Garcia said.

“We should get outside of the box or even remove the box so to speak to proceed with Internet voting despite the absence of the law because it is provided by the law itself,” he added.

Comelec last week approved the adoption of internet voting for the conduct of OAV, but they are yet to define the technologies that will be used for the measure which they are aiming to implement on the 2025 midterm elections.

This year also marks the 20th year since the passage of Republic Act 9189 or “The Overseas Absentee Voting Act of 2003,” which laid the guidelines for the conduct of primarily mail-in voting in the Philippines, but allowed Comelec to study modern technologies, as stated in Section 16 of the legislation.

This law was eventually amended in Republic Act 10590 in 2013.

According to DFA Overseas Voting Secretariat Zoilo Velasco, OAV turnout have increased through the years, with last year’s polls having a high voter turnout of 40.59 percent, translating to 688,961 voters who casted their ballots.

However, as Garcia previously argued, the said number is still far from the 1.7 million registered Filipinos overseas.

He also reported a significant decrease in overseas voter registration for the 2019 and the upcoming 2025 elections, having more than 174,000 and nearly 26,000 registrants respectively.

Velasco said that the turnout in voting and voter registration should be a step for policymakers to consider policies that would aid in improving the system of overseas voting.

“We will continue to do our best and register as many people as we can. We are requesting for more funding so that we could be able to register more. We will do everything we can. If there’s a decline in overseas registration, it is for some external reasons. This is also an important input for policymakers because they should be able to come up with out of the box solutions such as online registration,” Velasco said.

In terms of election security, COMELEC Office for Overseas Voting Director Sonia Bea Wee-Lozada also argued that modern technologies such as internet voting has protective mechanisms that could prevent discrepancies and threats to the conduct of the polls.

“We have evidence to show that there are existing technologies and platforms out there that allow us to exercise our right to vote in a secure and auditable way, with the transparency that our laws demand. There are technologies that would be able to fit our requirements,” Wee-Lozada explained.

The DFA-OVS forum also provided a platform for representatives from Mexico, Hongkong, South Korea and Ontario, Canada to discuss their practices in overseas voting and womens’ participation in the polls and in public governance.

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