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MANILA, Philippines – To those without Internet access, sorry. You'll have to find other ways to get an official list of candidates and practice shading your ballots for the second automated elections.
In a resolution obtained by Rappler, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) decided to scrap the mailing of sample ballots to voters this year. Instead, the poll body instructed voters – most of whom do not use the Internet – to access its website for such guides in choosing their leaders. (See the Comelec's ballot templates through this link.)
The Omnibus Election Code, as amended by Republic Act (RA) No. 7904, requires the Comelec to send the following to each registered voter, through mail or any other “practicable” means:
an unfilled official sample ballot
a voter information sheet
a list of all registered national, provincial, and city candidates running in the elections
The Omnibus Election Code mandates the Comelec to send this to voters at least 30 days before elections.
The law also requires the listing of candidates' names “in alphabetical order under their respective party affiliation” alongside “a one-line statement not to exceed 3 words of their occupation or profession.”
Comelec chair Sixto Brillantes Jr explained that mailing sample ballots is no longer “compulsory” under the automated election system. The government implemented RA 7904 in 1995, within the context of a manual system.
In the Philippines' first automated elections in 2010, however, the Comelec mailed sample ballots to all 50 million voters.
Why sample ballots count
Nevertheless, the Comelec is bent on following RA 9704, the law that required it to provide voters with sample ballots and voter information sheets. In its calendar of activities, it included the deadline set by this law.
This means that for the 2013 elections, all of the Philippines' 52.3 million voters should have received what is now called the Voters' Information and Instruction Sheet (VIIS) by Saturday, April 13.
Based on previous elections, sample ballots allow voters to get a list of candidates without resorting to a partisan alternative – that is, to refer to sample ballots provided by political parties. Politicians usually present the latter as election propaganda, with pre-shaded names to indicate party members to vote for.
In 2010, former Comelec commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal also said sample ballots can educate voters in properly filling out their ballots.
Larrazabal explained in 2010: "Unlike before when we send out the listing of candidates, Comelec would send out these voters' information sheets in the form of sample ballots to all 50 million voters nationwide. This is to allow voters to practice shading the ballots so they get the feel of voting in May 10."
Problem with online samples
For most Filipinos, the problem with online sample ballots is accessibility. Statistics show only 3 out of 10 Filipinos have Internet access.
Brillantes, however, justified the poll body's decision. He noted the large size of ballots – 8 inches wide and 25 inches long. “Ang laki laki ng balota eh... Paano mo isa-sample ballot ang automated?” Brillantes told Rappler. (The ballot is too big... How can you print sample ballots out of it?)
The 2013 ballot is as big as the one used in 2010, when the Comelec mailed these sheets of paper to voters.
Brillantes also said that while the sample ballot requirement is under the Omnibus Election Code, “we're now under automation.” “Hindi na compulsory 'yon,” he said. (That's no longer compulsory.)
He said what's important in the VIIS, in the first place, is the set of instructions on how to vote.
The new VIIS contains information such as the time and place for voting, the requirements in the polling precinct, the right way of shading the ballot, and a reminder – in bold, underlined font – that it's illegal to take money in exchange for votes.
'Purpose is gone'
Brillantes' chief of staff, Emil Marañon, added that RA 7904, a 1995 law, required the Comelec to mail a list of candidates because of the set-up under the manual system.
Back then, he said, voters needed the Comelec's official list as guide because the ballots did not contain the candidates' names.
Now, the Comelec prints the names of candidates on the ballots, and all that voters need to do is to look for these names and shade them.
“The very purpose ng batas kung bakit nire-require ang VIS, in a way, wala na ngayon,” Marañon said. (The very purpose of the law in requiring the VIS, in a way, is gone.)
Nevertheless, he said, the Comelec complies with the law by including a link to sample ballots online.
What to expect
Based on the Comelec's en banc meeting on March 13, the approved VIIS will perform the following functions:
“to indicate the following voters' information: name of voter, assigned precinct number, and assigned polling center;
“to provide simplified instructions to the voter on how to vote correctly;
“to provide simplified instructions on how to access the Comelec website, should the voter opt to view the sample ballot therein provided; and
“to use (a) font size that is easily readable”
The Comelec approved the printing of the VIIS on a back-to-back newsprint measuring 8.5 by 13 inches.
Voters – with or without Internet access – should expect this from the Comelec by Saturday. – Rappler.com
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