NEXT to the turnout of the 2022 Philippine general election, the conduct of the country’s first election in a pandemic concerns many citizens.
The Oct. 23 test-run by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) hardly allayed apprehensions that the general election, which is anticipated to draw out a record turnout of voters choosing candidates for executive positions at the national to local level, will not become a superspreader of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19).
About seven months away from the May 9, 2022 date of the general election, the Comelec did a piloting of the election, following the pandemic protocols created by the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) to contain the spread of the virus.
During the Oct. 23 simulation of the election at the San Juan Elementary School in the National Capital Region, the Comelec tapped 4,235 test voters dispersed in four polling precincts or about 1,059 voters per precinct.
The Comelec’s election protocols capped the “ideal” limit at 800 voters per precinct. During the actual elections, which start at 8 a.m. and close at 4 p.m., there may be more voters than the simulated number of 1,059 voters per precinct.
Apprehensions focus on the difficulty of maintaining safe distance and disinfecting surfaces in the country’s public schools, venue for the elections. The classrooms are small and challenging to use not just as polling precincts but as holding areas for citizens waiting for their turn to vote.
School corridors and hallways were designed to maximize limited space. There is neither physical expansiveness nor proper ventilation to make these areas safer for many people to use at one time during a pandemic.
In the Oct. 23 Comelec simulation, Covid-19 marshalls were deployed to enforce distancing and other protocols. This means more bodies cramping the already limited space for voters.
Will it be even possible to have the personnel and resources to “regularly sanitize” public areas? This is another Comelec election protocol with doubtful applicability.
In elections, the congestion begins at the voters’ assistance desk, where citizens verify their polling precinct. Instead of centralizing this service at the entrance of public schools, these voters’ assistance desks should be distributed in the premises so the queues will be shorter and people observe physical distancing.
The Comelec must campaign online for citizens to access needed information, such as their polling precinct, from the official Comelec website before going out to vote. In the past, the Comelec website became inaccessible as the elections approached.
Comelec should finetune its preparations with other stakeholders for the May 9, 2022 election because health authorities have sounded off the decline in vaccination, which raises the risks of voting in the company of unvaccinated individuals.
According to Johanna O. Bajenting’s report in SunStar Cebu on Oct. 18, there are more than two million Covid-19 vaccines that remain unused in Central Visayas. The Visayas Vaccination Operations Center reported a trend of the region’s slack in vaccination.
The government should push to get more Filipinos vaccinated and counter misinformation and prejudice that discourages possible vaccinees. The easing of community quarantines and other pandemic restrictions may be making more Filipinos complacent about the urgency to be vaccinated.
In the Comelec’s Oct. 23 simulation, an isolation polling place will have a medical team to attend to voters with elevated body temperature or symptoms of Covid-19. Unless the country’s vaccination of citizens improves, May 9, 2022 may require an inordinate number of isolation polling places to assist voters with actual or suspected Covid-19.