Monday, 9 March 2009

Philippines mulling internet voting

Next on poll agenda: Internet voting, early ARMM elections
Emilia Narni J. David
BusinessWorld Online

THE COMMISSION on Elections (Comelec) will next lobby for congressional approval of proposals on absentee voting via the Internet and early elections in one region, following the passage last week of the supplemental budget bill for poll automation.

Comelec Commissioner Nicodemo T. Ferrer said in an interview on the sidelines of a press conference on Thursday that Web-based voting can facilitate elections for absentee voters.

"Those living in states that are far from Philippine embassies and especially seafarers would be able to vote without much hassle. The counting could be easier too," he added.

Republic Act 9189, enacted in 2003, institutionalized overseas voting, but did not allow Internet voting. Internet voting for overseas Filipino workers was tested in Singapore in 2007, but the results were nonbinding.

Since the start of the overseas absentee voters’ registration last Feb. 1 for next year’s general elections, 10,824 have registered in various sites provided by Comelec, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration. The listing will end on Aug. 31.

Mr. Ferrer said experts are still unsure of credibility results in Internet voting.

"Even if Internet voting is not allowed, we will still automate part of the absentee voting [process]. The counting will be automated this time because last elections people were complaining how long it took to read out the ballots of those who voted in the embassies," Mr. Ferrer said.

He added that the cost per absentee voter must not exceed P500.

Advanced voting

Meanwhile, the poll body is also seeking early elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Comelec Chairman Jose A. R. Melo said early voting in the region would allow the commission to focus on security and the conduct of voting in the volatile region.

"Senator [Richard J.] Gordon told us that his next step is to ask for advanced elections to be held in the ARMM and we fully support that move. We are capable of holding advanced elections there and we would like to focus on the area," said Mr. Melo in a separate interview.

He said they would try to get the early voting amendment passed before the May 10, 2010 elections.

The P11.3-billion supplemental budget would be used to lease precinct counting optical scanning machines, or the so-called precinct level optical mark reader system.

The Comelec will start the bidding for service providers on March 25.

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