MANILA - The Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Friday said voting would be moved from small public school classrooms to covered courts and school halls in the 2022 presidential elections as government seeks to ensure the exercise won't become a COVID-19 super spreader event.
Polling places will look "very different" because of the continuing pandemic, Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez told ABS-CBN News. Mass gatherings are still barred over a year into the pandemic as cases continue to rise in the country.
"The first thing you are going to see differently is 'yung itsura ng entrance. Meron na tayong control diyan. May nakabantay, may temperature check," he said.
(The first thing you are going to see differently is how the entrance [at the polling place] looks like. There will be controls there. There will be guards and temperature checks.)
Aside from casting votes in spacious areas like school gyms and auditoria, voters should expect to see more polling precincts next year, the Comelec spokesperson said.
"There will be more precincts because there will be fewer people per precinct," he said, noting that only 5 voters will be allowed inside a polling place at a time.
Election watchers should also expect some changes on election day, he said.
"There will certainly be restrictions on the number of watchers that will be allowed inside... We will make sure na makikita nila ang proseso all the time pero mababawasan ang ability nila to interact with people all the time," he said.
(We will make sure that they will see the process all the time but their ability to interact with other people will be reduced.)
"There will also be marshals to ensure there is proper social distancing... and that other health protocols will be observed."
There have been suggestions to extend voting hours, Jimenez said.
Some groups want polling precincts to be open for 12 hours so that voters and election officers can adhere to health protocols, he said.
"It's a little concerning because on election day, 'yung teachers who will be running the elections will be up ng 3 in the morning then start sila ng 6 a.m. and matatapos sila ng (and they will end at) 6 p.m. So ang haba na ng araw nila," he said.
(So they have a really long day.)
There are also suggestions to implement a schedule based on alphabetical order of voters' last names, he said.
"That is something that might be considered but at this moment mahirap siyang i-implement (it will be hard to implement)," he said.
"Paano 'pag dumating 'yung tao ng hindi nila tokang oras? Hindi mo na sila papabotohin?" he said.
(What if there are voters who arrive before or after their schedule? Should we stop them from voting?)
"Being at certain places at certain times is not a qualification for voting."
COVID-19 PATIENTS SHOULD VOTE TOO
The Comelec is also studying how Filipinos stricken with COVID-19 could cast their votes on election day, Jimenez said.
"Having a disease is not a disqualification for people to vote... We have to find ways to work around that," he said.
"But that's a little controversial kasi (because) you will be putting teachers at risk. That's something that needs to be settled in the coming days," he said.
The Commission is also studying if additional measures should be implemented for elderly voters who may not be allowed to leave their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic, Jimenez said.
"Walang transportation na madali and may movement restrictions pa din so that is something that is being discussed," he said.
The Comelec will be finalizing its plans for the upcoming presidential elections until mid-2021 before coordinating with the Inter Agency Task Force on COVID-19, Jimenez said.
"We need to get our act together first.. They (IATF) will have suggestions but the bulk of the work will come from Comelec because Comelec will design the system," he said.
Last year, President Rodrigo Duterte rejected calls to postpone the presidential elections in 2022, the end of his term, despite concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.