The Senate plans to tackle the soonest possible time a proposal that seeks to allow the early voting of vulnerable sectors in the 2022 national elections, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said on Monday, May 17.
“Yes, we will fast-track [the bill’s passage] as soon as possible,” Sotto said in a text message to Rappler, when asked whether the upper chamber would act on an October 2019 bill on the early voting of senior citizens and persons with disabilities (PWDs).
Sotto’s commitment to have a bill on early voting passed came after the House Committee on Appropriations approved a substitute bill on the early voting of senior citizens and PWDs on May 12.
The proposal, if enacted, would allow vulnerable sectors to “cast their ballot at accessible establishments designated by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) within seven working days before election day.”
The development came as the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to cast a long shadow in the conduct of the 2022 polls. More than one year into the health crisis, the Philippines was still grappling with over 54,000 active coronavirus infections, as of May 17.
On Monday, Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon welcomed developments in the legislature on proposals for the early voting of senior citizens and PWDs.
“Buti naaprubahan ng Appropriations Committee. Kasi kailangan po iyan niyan ng budget, dahil magbubukas po kami ng presinto, magbabayad kami sa maestra, sa Board of Election Inspectors, lahat, siyempre, magpapakain kami ng mga tao namin,” she said in an interview with Teleradyo.
(We’re thankful the House Appropriations Committee has passed the bill, because that proposal needs budget — we will open poll precincts, as well as pay and feed teachers and members of the BEI.)
In Philippine elections, only select sectors are allowed to vote ahead of election day, such as overseas Filipinos, media workers, teachers, and members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police.
The US, which conducted the presidential elections in 2020 despite having the most number of COVID-19 infections in the world, relied heavily on early voting, with 101 million Americans casting their ballots before election day. Among Americans’ options at the time was casting their ballots by mail.
In the Philippines, bills on postal voting ahead of election day for select sectors have been filed in both the House and the Senate, but such bills have been languishing at the committee level amid lukewarm reception from lawmakers.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III himself was not supportive of the idea, telling Rappler on Tuesday that if he were to choose, he would favor early physical voting over voting by mail.
“[I prefer] early voting for seniors and PWDs. Mail-in voting is very dangerous,” he said. — with reports from Mara Cepeda/Rappler.com