Raising campaign spending limits, online voting among poll reforms eyed for 2016
MANILA, Philippines – Commission on Election officials called on Congress on Monday to consider putting in place reforms that could help secure further the integrity of the polling process, especially during the 2016 presidential elections.
Among the suggestions put forth at the hearing of the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on the Automated Election System on Monday, were the raising of the low spending limits for candidates, the pilot testing of an online voting system for overseas Filipinos, and the drafting of new rules to govern online campaigning.
Comelec Education and Information Director James Jimenez also revived the poll body’s proposal of a money ban or the prohibition against withdrawing large sums of money several days prior to the elections to curb vote buying.
The Comelec intended to implement such a measure during last year’s polls, but the Supreme Court issued an order suspending its implementation upon the plea of bankers and businessmen.
Jimenez said the Supreme Court then suggested that legislation resolve issues surrounding the Comelec’s order.
“In any case, it’s imperative we do something about vote buying at the level of legislation,” he said.
He also said election laws should be revisited to amend the spending limits and put in place a more equitable cap on campaign expenditures.
“People are saying that spending limits are unrealistically low,” he said.
At present, candidates could only spend just P3 to P10 per registered voter.
Jimenez also pushed the idea of allowing overseas Filipinos to vote online, which he said would especially benefit seafarers, who account for three percent of Filipino voters abroad.
According to him, there is no problem with getting overseas Filipinos to register as voters. The challenge lies in getting them to vote. With online voting as an option, it would be easier for them to participate in the process of choosing the country’s leaders.
During the 2013 midterm elections, there were nearly a million overseas voters registered, but only 16 percent came to vote, said Jimenez. But he also noted that presidential elections have tended to attract more voters.
“The challenge is not getting people to register, but getting them to vote,” he said.
Another proposal from the Comelec is for Congress to come up with guidelines regarding online campaigning, an avenue that allows candidates many different possibilities of promoting themselves.
Jimenez also said Congress should also revisit the present multi-tiered canvassing system and to consider providing for a system where the precinct results are canvassed and consolidated at the municipal level in order to speed up results and minimize confusion.
Meanwhile, Comelec Executive Director Jose Tolentino said the poll body has been studying several options regarding the conduct of the 2016 elections.
One of the options is to use the old precinct count optical scan machines and just buy a few new ones. This would entail the least cost and less time for the certification process, as well as allow preparations to start early, Tolentino said. The election inspectors and voters have also become familiar with the system already, he added.
But he said the disadvantage of this would be that candidates already familiar with the system could plot to disrupt the process.
A new system to be introduced by Comelec would be costly and would entail a massive information and education campaign, he said. The poll body would also have to be reliant on the provider of the technology, and would have to train its election inspectors anew.
The Comelec is also considering clustering voters into 1,000 per precinct, 800 per precinct or 600 per precinct. The more voters there are in one precinct, the less costly it would be.
Joint Committee chair Rep. Mel Senen Sarmiento welcomed the Comelec’s proposals and suggested that it come up with a draft bill to facilitate the review of their ideas.
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