Sen. Leila M. de Lima on the need for an information drive on voting COVID safety rules to avoid disenfranchisement

Sen. Leila M. de Lima on the need for an information drive on voting COVID safety rules to avoid disenfranchisement

I beseech the COMELEC to give attention to ensuring a high voter turnout and participation on May 9, Election Day. I would like to point out two things of concern regarding this.

First, the COMELEC should make sure that its online Precinct Finder is activated on time at least a week before the elections. Second, COMELEC should make sure that its COVID safety rules for voting are not used by ill-motivated parties to disenfranchise voters.

I hope the COMELEC makes good on its promise to have the online Precinct Finder up and running within the week. The Precinct Finder had been a great help in the 2016 and 2019 Elections. With its quick-search and user-friendly interface features, the Precinct Finder enabled voters to save precious time on election day lining up at the polling place to inquire from election personnel or crowding around billboards where the precinct list of voters are posted.

With the online Precinct Finder, COMELEC will avoid the risk of superspreader incidents at the polling place. Overcrowding and unneccessary contact usually happen when voters flock to and gather around the posted precinct list of voters for long periods of time just to search for their precinct numbers.

In line with its COVID safety measures during voting, the COMELEC should inform the public, at least two weeks before election day, the specific rules on voting that were modified to protect the voters against COVID-19.

It should make clear that COVID vaccination cards are not required to enter the polling place and in order to vote. COMELEC should ensure that all voters know that vaccination is not a requirement for voting. Neither should a voter be refused his right to vote just because his or her body temperature is above normal. COMELEC should make clear that temperature checks are a requirement at the polling places, but only for purposes of segregating those with above normal temperature to an isolation voting area.

With regards to the wearing of face masks and face shields, it should be clear if a face shield is still required in the polling places of a certain area, and that face masks should be made available free of charge to those who have no face masks. I urge the COMELEC to adopt the policy that at no time should the failure to bring a face mask or face shield be a bar to exercising the right to vote, and that instead voters without face masks should be provided with such free of charge.

The COMELEC should also be clear on its proposed guidelines on isolation polling booths it intends to set up on election day. COMELEC cannot afford a problem on the operation of these isolation booths on election day itself, given the differences in the set-up of polling places all over the country and the possible adverse reaction of other voters upon seeing isolation areas in the polling place itself.

Without COMELEC being prepared for all these eventualities, ill-intentioned parties might spread disinformation to disenfranchise voters who have not been vaccinated or are experiencing mild COVID symptoms. The COMELEC should now conduct an intensive information drive on TV, radio, and social media, considering that COVID safety rules and regulations to be implemented on election day are not yet clear even to the candidates and political parties, much less the ordinary voters, barely three weeks before election day. ###

(Access the handwritten version of Dispatch from Crame No. 1252, here: https://issuu.com/senatorleilam.delima/docs/smc_1252)

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