Comelec: Expect ‘major changes’ in campaign guidelines

POLITICAL parties and candidates in the 2022 synchronized national and local elections are in for a great surprise when the Commission on Elections (Comelec) will release this month the new campaign guidelines that will govern the mode of campaigning under the new normal.

Comelec spokesman James Jimenez also disclosed on Tuesday that the poll body would likewise introduce measures to make the voting process responsive to the health guidelines of the government to avoid the spread of Covid-19.

“We are ready to release the campaign guidelines. A lot of people will be in for some scrambling in terms of modifying how they conduct their campaigns because there will be some major changes. Let’s wait for that to come out, hopefully before the end of the month,” said Jimenez in a webinar organized by Stratbase ADR Institute entitled “Democracy goes on: Upholding a safe, free and credible 2022 election in the new normal.”

Jimenez said that elections preparations are in full swing in the run-up to the 2022 elections with the ongoing voter registration and substitution of candidates, which will end on October 30 and November 15, respectively.

With three days left before the end of the voter registration, Jimenez said that there were already close to 63 million registered voters for 2022, with roughly 4.5 million new registration already in the book which, he said, was incredible considering that there is a pandemic.

He said the voter registration extension period has so far attracted already more than 400,000 new registrants, who keep on coming, surpassing earlier projections of around 350,000.

On the other hand, the overseas voter registration, which ended October14, was able to attract some 1.6 million voter registrants.

“All in all, locally and overseas, we have a voting population of almost 65 million voters, and that’s a huge percentage of our national population,” Jimenez said.

He added Comelec also introduced some modifications on voting day by scratching the use of the health declaration form (HDF), which was found to be ineffective from the Palawan plebiscite experienced because voters arrived with unfilled or empty forms.

“However, that’s not what happened. People were actually coming in polling places with unfilled declaration forms and only then actually started filling them out. This causes some concern of course because this would cause congestion at the very entrance of the voting center,” he added.

For 2022, where there are a lot more voters, voters upon arrival at voting centers would instead undergo a temperature check. Those with 37.5 degrees Celsius or higher would be diverted to isolation polling places.

Voters who cleared the temperature check would then proceed to the voters assistance desk where they would get their room assignment or precinct assignment as well as their sequence number to eliminate the usual practice of people going room to room to find their names.

There will be changes also in classrooms and on the number of voters that will be allowed to vote simultaneously.

“That will have to change. Depending on the size of the classrooms, we are cutting the number of voters who can vote at the same time. We are going to take into account the size of the room,” Jimenez added.

Plastic or acrylic barriers will be placed also inside voting places, which should have proper and adequate ventilation.

“The election officers nationwide are now in the middle of completing their detailed precinct plans. This will make sure that Comelec central will have a say in the acceptability of their chosen venues as well as the level of preparations in those things,” Jimenez said.

According to Jimenez, so-called emergency accessible polling places (EAPPs) would be made available for senior citizens, persons with disability and heavily pregnant women to make it easier for them if their voting places were on higher floors.

But Jimenez pointed out that those who voted in the EAPP would not be able to insert their ballot personally to the vote counting machine (VCM).

“This is a trade-off. When a person can’t navigate stairs, for example, to the assigned voting place, [he] has to do it at the EAPP. [His] ballot would be brought down and will be brought back to his original precinct to be inserted in the VCM,” he explained.

The Comelec, he further said, is also at the middle of the local source code review where reviewers were shown every aspect of the automated election system.

“This is an improvement on the previous reviews because in previous source reviews, the reviews were limited only to the three components of the AES. But now we are reviewing all aspects of automation to include the three components of the AES and as well as all ancillary programs,” Jimenez said.

“We hope to prevent a repeat of what happened in 2016 and 2019. In 2016 the unauthorized alteration of a script, and2019 where we had the unfortunate news blackout on the night of the elections,” he added.

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