Overseas absentee voting (OAV) turnout in the last May 13 mid-term elections was way below the Commission on Elections’ hoped-for 60 percent in major precincts around the globe.
Based on available reports, the overseas vote may be even less than the 26 percent achieved in 2010 despite the stepped-up OAV campaign, with some major areas logging only five to eight percent voter turnout.
The troubling development prompted Senator Franklin Drilon to demand an explanation from the Comelec and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
Drilon, tipped as the incoming Senate president, wanted to know how the poll body and the DFA spent the additional funds they received to ensure that the overseas voting turnout in the last elections would surpass that in the 2010 presidential polls.
Through Drilon’s efforts as chairman of the Senate finance committee, Comelec received P105-M from the 2013 national budget, while the DFA was granted P43-M to implement the absentee voting law and “influence the result of the election by electing qualified leaders,” Drilon said.
But the turnout of only 113,209 overseas Filipinos means each absentee vote costs P1,310 per vote.
“This is outrageous. I wonder how the Comelec and the DFA can justify these numbers,” said Drilon, one of the principal sponsors of Republic Act No 9189, or the Overseas Absentee Voting Act enacted in February 2003.
“I hate to sound like a broken record, but I again deplore the dismal implementation of the absentee voting law in the just-concluded midterm elections,” Drilon said in a statement.
Lower than 2010 turnout
He said he wants to know why, despite an increased budget allocated to Comelec and DFA, the May 2013 polls had even fewer overseas voters — a low turnout of 15.35%.
Of the 737,759 registered overseas voters, only 113,209 actually cast their ballots, according to Drilon.
Drilon said the turnout was even less than the “already low” 26% turnout in the 2010 presidential elections, which is “getting more and more disappointing.”
“It seems that less and less Filipinos abroad are inclined to exercise their right to vote, contrary to the intention of Congress when this law was enacted,” he said.
In April, Comelec had predicted that 60% of overseas voters would participate in the polls. But for still unexplained reasons, the actual turnout was way off the target.
Less than 15% in Mideast
In Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Middle East, which accounts for 40 percent of almost a million OAV registrants, turnout figures point to less than 15 percent.
The Philippine embassy in Saudi Arabia reported only 13,321 votes cast out of 164,290 registered voters in the three-city cluster composed of Riyadh, Jeddah and Al Khobar. Only five percent turned out in Jeddah, eight percent in Riyadh and 10 percent in Al Khobar. The Dammam precinct reported a 10.96 percent turnout or only 2,723 out of 24,842 registered voters.
In Kuwait, a major destination of overseas Filipino workers, the voter turnout was barely eight percent of some 40,000 registered voters, according to embassy officials there.
In the United States, another big voting bloc, the turnout was placed at only 11 percent. Reports said only 13,976 out of 125,604 registered voters in the US and the Caribbean actually cast their vote.
The only relatively bright spot was Hong Kong, where 34 percent of its over 122,000 voters cast their votes. According to Hong Kong media reports, 28,260 Filipinos in Hong Kong participated in the month-long OAV. The turnout surpassed the 20 percent turnout in the 2007 senatorial elections.
Dismal turnout in Europe
Reports from Europe, indicate barely 14-percent turnout. ABS-CBN News reported that the European turnout “did not even reach 11,000 out of the total number of registered voters of 75,666.” In the United Kingdom, just over 2,500 out of 11,900 registered voters cast their ballots. In Italy, only 5,000 voted, out of 31,030 registered voters, while in Spain, just over a thousand out of some 7,000 registered participated.
Postal voting was allowed in almost all European centers and in Canada. But many overseas Filipinos, particularly in Canada, complained they did not receive their election ballots in the mail because they were mailed by Comelec to the wrong or old address. It appeared that Comelec staff failed to update the voters’ addresses.
The mailed ballots were meant to allow overseas voters to cast their votes from their homes and offices. But because many of the ballots were misdirected, the voters were directed by Comelec at the last minute to cast their votes at the Philippine Embassy or Consulate, which proved impractical for voters who cannot leave their work or home or live far from a Philippine diplomatic outpost.
Internet voting is best option
Comelec chair Sixto Brillantes Jr. said he was also disappointed with the low overseas voting turnout but he could not explain how it happened.
Instead, Brillantes pushed for the adoption of Internet voting to generate increased participation among overseas Filipinos and speed up the voting process.
“If there will be Internet voting it should go up to about 60 to 70 percent,” he said. “It’s the old law that is being applied up to now [and] it’s not very practical to go to the embassy or consulate [to vote which] is the basic requirement. The solution is Internet voting.”
Internet voting, however, poses tremendous technical and logistical challenges Even advanced countries have not fully embraced it because of security problems. Putting up an online voting platform is the easy part, securing it from hackers is the hard part.
Brillantes would not own up to any shortcomings on the part of the Comelec. “Wala tayong pagkukulang. Talagang konti lang lumabas,” he said. “We’ll just have to study it now.”