Congressmen mull changes to law to increase absentee voter turnout
MANILA, Philippines - Filipino expatriates from the United States, Australia and Jordan have apparently scored a key point in removing a legal impediment blamed for the low turnout in overseas absentee voting.
The Joint Congressional Committees on Foreign Affairs and Suffrage are now considering a substitute bill amending the Overseas Absentee Voting law, in order to do away with the requirement for Filipinos to submit an affidavit to return to the country 3 years after registration.
Other amendments include allowing Filipino expatriates to participate in national referenda and plebiscites aside from voting for president, vice president, senator and party-list; the creation of field and mobile registration offices in all Philippine posts; allowing voting by mail or other technologies that maybe determined by Comelec, the creation of a Department of Overseas Voting in Comelec and the allotment of 10% of the national budget yearly to an information campaign for overseas voting.
Elections Commissioner Armando Velasco, who heads the committee on overseas voting, expressed support for all the amendments, citing the need to encourage more overseas Filipino voters to participate.
Overseas absentee voting has implemented in the past 3 elections in 2004, 2007 and 2010.
However, foreign affairs committee chairman Al Francis Bichara says about 90% of Filipinos overseas have been disenfranchised because of the law’s provisions, making overseas absentee voting a failure.
Ako Bicol partylist Rep. Rodel Batocabe, who heads the technical working group who worked on the bill, said, they “scrapped restrictive provisions in the present law to enable Filipino residents abroad to participate in our election. these are substantial provisions we have included under new proposal we hope committees will consider and move for approval.”
Internet voting proposed
Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez noted latest figures showed only 300,000 of 9 million Filipinos overseas are registered, of which only about 200,000 actually vote.
Rodriguez also made a pitch for Internet voting, which was later echoed by some stakeholders in the hearing.
"We should go to Internet voting. Mailing ano pa yan eh. let's go international through internet voting," he said.
Filipino-American lawyer and businesswoman Loida Nicolas-Lewis presented her research on the experience of other countries that gave their expatriates the right to vote and how these countries increased voter turnout. Lewis pointed out that Mexico allows registration and voting by registered mail.
Lewis pointed out the high voting rates for expatriates of the Dominicaon Republic and Spain. She pointed out that Canada, Germany and the United Kingdom have more relaxed rules on requiring citizens to return to their home countries. In Canada, voter registration can be done by fax and internet.
The commitment to return is the "biggest stumbling block," Lewis said.
Lewis also made a pitch for voting by registered mail in the US, since fraud committed over the US registered mail system is considered a federal crime and is more secure.
Regarding the creation of a department of overseas voting in the Comelec, Velasco said there maybe a legal impediment because the absentee voting law specifies the creation of a committee instead.
Velacso also welcomed the possibility of Internet registration provided there are adequate security measures.
Upon questioning though, Velasco said that if Internet voting is done for Filipino expatriates, it may also be done locally in the Philippines.
"If we can do that (Internet voting), I believe there’s no reason we can't do that in the Philippines," he said.
Velasco was instructed to present a study on these amendments within 30 days.
The committee also approved to remove the word absentee in the amendment bill, potentially renaming the law to overseas voting law.