Comelec, PhilPost consider pilot test for mail-in voting

The Commissions on Elections (Comelec) and Philippine Postal Corporation (PhilPost) expressed openness to implementing voting by mail options for the May 2022 elections after lawmakers eyed the method as an alternative way of voting during the pandemic. 

But for this to take place, Comelec Commissioner Marlon Casquejo said the poll body would need to conduct pilot tests locally since voting by mail had been largely done for overseas Filipino voters only. 

“We can do [a] pilot test…. We just need assurance that the return of ballot will arrive not later than Election Day,” Casquejo said during a hearing of the Senate committee on people’s participation and electoral reforms on Thursday, February 18. 

Joel Zamuido, acting PhilPost Assistant Postmaster General for Operations, also cited the possibility of having voting by mail during the 2022 elections, saying PhilPost was scheduled to complete full computerization of its system by April or May this year. 

With a fully digital system, Zamuido said PhilPost would have a tracking system that may be ready to cater to elections by 2022 as ballots could be traced from when they are given to voters to when they are sent back to the Comelec. 

Still, elections watchdogs present at the hearing urged lawmakers, the Comelec, and PhilPost to ensure safeguards against voter fraud if voting by mail will be carried out for the 2022 polls. One challenge they cited in the proposed voting method would be establishing individual voter’s identity, which is usually done at polling precincts when voting in person. 

For overseas voters, Comelec Deputy Executive Director for Operations Teopisto Elna said the poll body verified overseas Filipinos using their stated address before sending out ballots, but that stricter requirements would be needed if this would be done locally. 

Both PhilPost and Comelec said they could study the matter further as lawmakers discussed proposals for voting by mail in depth. 

Voting by mail had been made popular during the United States presidential election last November 2020, after a record number of voters used the system due to pandemic restrictions that limited in-person voting. 

In a forum hosted by the Ateneo School of Governance on Wednesday, February 17, US Elections Assistance Commissioner Commissioner Thomas Hicks said while voting by mail rules varied per state, one way the commission protected against fraud was by ensuring that only one ballot was counted per person. 

This means that even if a person were to try and request multiple ballots, during the canvassing of votes, election rules ensured that only one ballot per voter would be counted. 

Aside from this, US Postal Service personnel increased their number of employees working during election time to ensure ballots would arrive before their stated deadlines across states. 

Meanwhile, several US election experts had also pointed out that safeguards should be in place to prevent embroiling postal services in politics when implementing voting by mail. 

“If the postal service, if its not politicized, can do a better job at working with local service to deliver ballots on time,” said Barry Burden, director of the Elections Research Center at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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