Despite the efforts that Comelec has done to make registering to vote more convenient, it’s clear for the need to extend voter registration.
With only 15 days left before voter registration for the 2022 election ends, we are down to the wire. In just two weeks, registration will end and people will no longer be able to participate in arguably the most consequential elections in recent Philippine history. And it’s evident that a lot of people are fired up to vote. Comelec’s data shows that the number of registered voters for Halalan 2022 is nearing 62 million. Meanwhile, the number of first-time voters has surpassed four million.
But with the deadline coming to a close, it has become clear the need to extend the deadline for voter registration. Because for everything Comelec has tried to do to make registering easier, there are still millions of potential voters who could be disenfranchised of their vote.
REGISTERING TO VOTE HAS ITS PROBLEMS
Unlike in years past, you can’t just show up to your local Comelec office, register to vote, and go about the rest of your day. Due to the pandemic, you now need to fill out a set of forms before going and schedule an appointment. Already there you have the first problem that limits how many people can register to vote. Comelec only allots just a few hundred slots per day in their offices and booths. If you can’t get a slot, you can’t go. This then leads to a rush of potential voters trying to get a slot before it gets fully booked. People have waited hours in line at Comelec offices and booths just to be told that they have reached a cut-off period. There are people who try for months just to get a slot.
There’s also the fact Comelec closes their offices during ECQ (they just recently allowed their offices to remain open during MECQ). Since the pandemic started, some places in the country have been under hard lockdowns for as much as eight months. Voter registration has been repeatedly suspended in multiple areas around the country multiple times.
It’s understandable to limit the number of people per day to avoid overcrowding in the pandemic, but it will inevitably lead to people rushing and scrambling to find a slot. What happens now when all the slots are full? There should be a fair opportunity to give people time to register and that can happen if Comelec extends the voter registration deadline.
SOLUTIONS DON’T GO FAR ENOUGH
In fairness to Comelec, they have tried to implement systems to make registering more convenient. They extended operating hours of their offices to 8 AM – 7 P for places under GCQ and below. Their offices are also now open during Saturdays and holidays. They also teamed up with the biggest mall operators in the country to set up voter registration booths. They have a website to teach you about voter registration. There’s even an app to make things more convenient. But the problem is that these solutions aren’t enough.
The extension of hours only started just last month and these hours aren’t enough to make up for the missed months. Not every registration booth in malls are open every day, some are open on select days. As stated before, you also can’t just go up to these booths to register. They have a set number of people they can only accommodate per day and they got fully booked quickly. And at the end of the day, you still need to take time to show up to the actual office to register, something people with jobs may not have the luxury to afford.
EXTEND THE VOTER REGISTRATION DEADLINE
It is estimated that there are around 12-13 million eligible Filipinos who have not yet registered. A lot of people do want to vote but their circumstances and the system don’t make it the easiest thing to do. Multiple groups have asked Comelec to extend voter registration. Lawmakers in the House of Representatives and the Senate have even proposed resolutions to extend the deadline if not until January 2022, then until the end of October 2021.
But despite this, Comelec has remained steadfast that they will not extend the voter registration deadline. Their reason is because doing so could have a domino effect and complicate their calendar of activities. They also say that they already have surpassed their target of 4 million first-time voters. But are those good enough reasons? Just because Comelec already surpassed their target doesn’t mean they should stop wanting to get more. There are still millions of Filipinos who aren’t registered and they shouldn’t be forgotten just because a target was reached. It should be encouraging that so many Filipinos actually want to vote and the enthusiasm is there. Despite the pandemic, they want to register. The door shouldn’t be closed on them as Comelec should welcome all these new potential voters.
AS MANY PEOPLE AS POSSIBLE DESERVE TO PARTICIPATE IN HALALAN 2022
Halalan 2022 is set to be the most important election this country will experience in years. We are going to elect a new set of leaders that are going to guide us out of this pandemic. If it hasn’t been clear before, it’s clear now that the quality of the elected official has a near-direct correlation with your quality of life. Now more than ever, we need leaders who actually care about the Filipino people and controlling the pandemic. And that first starts by making sure as many Filipino are registered to vote as possible. But with the way things are going now, there will be millions who will be left behind.
The best way to at least mitigate this is to extend the voter registration period. Give the people more time because the system that’s currently in place is not a simple show-up-and-register system. It should only be fair that the deadline should be extended if not until 2022, then at least until October or November because people do want to and deserve to vote.