Wednesday, November 17, 2021

The Philippines inches closer to internet voting

The Philippines’ Commission on Elections (Comelec) recently conducted test runs for internet voting as part of its mandate to enfranchise Filipino voters abroad.

In a statement, Comelec said that the test runs were part of a study on the use of internet-based technology for overseas voting. The poll body is expressly allowed by law to explore other modes or systems using automated election system.

The initiative saw thousands of overseas Filipino voters signing up to vote in simulated polls using three different platforms from competing voting companies. The tests yielded varying degrees of success in terms of participation with one provider hitting a record 64% voter turnout.

“This looks promising because traditionally we never go beyond 50 percent when it comes to voters who actually voted for overseas voting. Historically, it’s always been below 40 percent,” according to Sonia Bea Wee-Lozada, a Comelec official in charge of overseas voting.

“So, that’s how we are imagining it especially for overseas voting. Seafarers who may not be on land during the voting period, the internet voting system would be very much convenient and efficient for them,” she said.

Internet voting is expected to boost turnout as it enables voters to participate from anywhere there is a stable internet connection, a boon for overseas Filipinos who may not be able to take a day off to visit an embassy or consulate or find it expensive to travel to the nearest polling place.

The Comelec hopes that the test runs will be able to determine the operational and technical feasibility of conducting overseas voting using internet-based systems and gather data on technical specifications of the internet voting solutions currently being used in different countries.

The data gathered from these activities will inform COMELEC’s recommendatory report or policy proposal to Congress, which is expected to pass an enabling law for internet voting to be used in the midterm elections of 2025.

There are an estimated 2.8 million Filipinos working all over the world pumping back some $4 billion to their home country’s economy annually. Owing to this sector’s significant contribution to the country’s GDP, the Philippine government has accorded special status to overseas workers and has relentlessly been seeking ways to improve delivery of services to them, including making voting easier.

The success of online voting for overseas Filipinos could likewise prove to be the impetus for Comelec to consider rolling the system out to the rest of the country. Advocates are convinced that internet voting could make elections in this archipelagic country of more than 7,000 islands easier, safer, and cheaper.