Comelec supports early voting bills

by Aries Rufo,

Posted at Sep 24 2009 11:36 PM | Updated as of Sep 25 2009 08:17 AM

MANILA - The Commission on Elections (Comelec) fully backs congressional efforts to allow early voting, particularly in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), where all forms of cheating rule.

Comelec Commissioner Rene Sarmiento told a forum on "Philippine Democracy and the 2010 Elections" that the poll body supports bills in Congress on early voting.

He stressed, however, that the Comelec wants early voting to be implemented in the ARMM and in some provinces in Mindanao, where traditionally, failure of elections in many areas is the norm rather than the exception.

Two bills on early voting are pending in Congress: one authored by Senator Richard Gordon, and the other, by Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez.

The two legislators said the rationale behind the measures is to increase voter participation in the elections.

Voter turnout in presidential elections has averaged around 80 percent. Mid-term polls, on the other hand, where only senatorial, congressional, and local posts are at stake, generally have lower voter turnout.

Advance voting is actually being practiced, but only to limited to a few, mainly public servants like policemen, soldiers and public school teachers who cannot vote where they are registered since they are assigned in other areas for their election duties.

The two pending bills, however, have different views on how advance voting should be implemented.

Gordon’s proposal allows for early voting 10 days before the actual date of elections. He argues that early voting is observed elsewhere, like in the United States, Canada, Germany, Australia, New Zealand and Switzerland

Rodriguez’s proposal, on the other hand, gives Comelec the free hand in determining where advance voting should be held.

Sarmiento said advance voting, like in the ARMM, would allow the Comelec “to concentrate all its logistics and resources” in that area and address all the problems there.

“I hope Congress will approve the early voting bills. I believe there is still time,” he said.

ARMM's failure of elections

Electoral exercises in the ARMM, during mid-term and national polls, experience failure of elections in many areas. The ARMM is also a hotbed of all kinds of election fraud.

Civic leaders in ARMM have been proposing that elections there be held separately to address such problems.

They noted that electoral fraud has become a cottage industry in the ARMM, as it gives the people an opportunity to make extra money by selling their votes to the highest bidder.

The 2007 mid-term polls was no different. Many areas declared failure of elections, and the Comelec was forced to send its best people to conduct the special polls.

Sarmiento, who was initially chaired the special elections in the ARMM, asked the poll body to assign another commissioner on his behalf, citing health reasons.

Some senatorial races are won and lost in the ARMM.

For instance, Senator Miguel Zubiri and losing senatorial candidate Aquilino 'Koko' Pimentel III are both presently contesting the 2007 mid-term results in Maguindanao province, which is part of the ARMM. In the official Comelec tally, Zubiri won over Pimentel by 18,000 votes.

Aside from Maguindanao, Pimentel is also contesting the count in the now abolished Shariff Kabunsuan and Lanao del Norte.