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New normal poll restrictions seen

July 13, 2021 Ryan Ponce Pacpaco 292 views

THE Commission on Elections (Comelec) is expected to impose restrictions on the filing of candidacies, conduct of campaign rallies, as well the number of voters that will be allowed to vote in a precinct at any given time.

These are some of the limitations that will be imposed by the Comelec as the “new normal” guidelines in the conduct of next year’s national elections.

As a result of the restrictions imposed, the Comelec had pushed for greater participation of civil society organizations in the election campaign particularly in the area of voter education in order to bring to the fore crucial information that will enable voters to vote accordingly in the elections.

This was the issue addressed by the House committee on people’s participation chaired by San Jose del Monte City Rep. Florida “Rida” P. Robes in an online forum Tuesday entitled “Imagining the 2022 National Elections: The Many Ways the Covid-19 Pandemic Can Impact on the Electoral Process.”

Robes said she organized the forum in order to raise awareness on how the coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) pandemic can change public participation in the 2022 elections.

Speaker Lord Allan Velasco lauded the forum saying it is a timely exercise in order to find a balance between the public clamor for a free and democratic elections and the need to keep everyone safe during this crisis.

Present during the forum were former Comelec Commissioner Luie Tito Guia, Comelec Spokespeson James Jimenez and Malou Tuquia of Publicus Asia Inc.

Jimenez said as a result of the still pervading COVID-19 pandemic, the number of voters that will be allowed inside a voting precinct at any given time will be limited from ten as practiced in previous elections, to just one voter to limit to just five persons the total number of people inside a precinct.

The other people are the three members of the election board and one watcher.

“That is the most extreme that may happen, this is not final and we are discussing this and so we want all voters to be able to finish voting at the earliest possible time so we can accommodate more voters. That is why we want that voters know who to vote for once they enter the precinct. This is why voter education is important,” Jimenez said.

As a result of the limit in the number of people allowed to vote at any given time in precincts, the time of election may be extended from 6 am to 6 pm on May 9, 2022.

He added that even those with COVID-19 or symptoms thereof will be allowed to vote on election day but they will be segregated to an Isolation polling place as part of health and safety protocol.

“They will be allowed to cast their votes but they will be separated from the general population. This way they will be able to exercise their right of suffrage because obviously having COVID is not disqualifying and at the same time the rest of the voters will be kept safe,” Jimenez said.

He said they field tested this system during the Palawan plebiscite with much success. “This strategy actually worked.”

Campaign rallies and other mass gathering in relation to the elections will also be restricted with strict imposition of safety protocols as well as the conduct of canvassing.

Guia said his group, the Lawyers League for Liberty of Libertas has been involved in voter education as well as pushing for electoral reforms and election monitoring work.

He said CSOs should take a more active role in voter education through engaging the electorate in first, increasing the number of registration especially among the youth and second, giving vital information on the candidates who are vying for different positions in both the national and local levels.

Jimenez also said that Comelec will be employing CSOs to screen and assist voters before entering the polling centers. He stated that they will facilitate the finding of the precincts of voters so that they would know where to go for voting, thus preventing crowding in polling precincts.

Tiquia for her part said that with COVID-19, campaigning has shifted toward the digital realm in which CSOs can also play an important role. She pointed out that CSOs may be able to build relationships with voters through a relational database through social media.