ONE innovation this election is the expansion of the absentee voting coverage to include media members, aside from overseas Filipino workers, teachers and police personnel.
As with first times, there were glitches starting with the distribution of election materials for absentee voters. The expansion meant more Commission on Elections (Comelec) offices involved in this special exercise and that became a concern. As one poll official admitted during an absentee voting session, he was a “semi-virgin” when it came to this as he had little experience with the procedure.
I was among the Sun.Star website journalists who applied for early voting to allow us to perform our civic duty before election day. A packet containing election materials was delivered to the office about a week before the schedule of actual voting. The packet contained official ballots, written instructions, envelopes and inkpad for our thumbprints. (I later learned that the materials were wrongly sent to the Sun.Star office. These should have stayed in Comelec’s possession as custodians of election paraphernalia. We were required to go to the local Comelec office at our designated date and time last April 30 to cast our votes.)
At the local poll office, we learned it was a different process for absentee voting.
No shading of ovals in the ballot. We had to write down the names of our chosen candidates. A different set of instructions included tearing off the bottom portion of the ballot, enclosing the ballot in a small envelope and putting the torn off piece and the small envelope into a bigger envelope. It was not only the election official but we, media voters, too who had to go through all these for the first time.
It felt good to be able to vote for my candidates and not worry about lining up at my precinct as media work on May 13 is expected to be heavy and hectic.
But there are lessons from this first exercise of absentee voting for media people.
Before this year’s elections, early local voting was allowed only for government people, teachers, and military and police personnel assigned to faraway places.
Overseas absentee voting was allowed for workers abroad.
When the Comelec included journalists in absentee voting, it expected thousands from the industry to sign up and benefit from the privilege. But Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. was disappointed that only 575 journalists registered for it and less than half of them actually voted.
There was lack of time to educate election officials outside of the capital and media practitioners around the country of this opportunity. Some journalists didn’t know about early voting while others found out only a few days before the deadline for filing of applications.
Voting was limited to the senatorial line-up and party-list representative. Not enticing for those wishing to vote for a congressman, mayor and vice mayor or governor and vice governor. Including local positions can be an improvement in early voting in the next elections three years from now.
Early voting this year was clearly imperfect, especially for the media sector that was allowed the privilege for the first time. It should be better next time.