Last Monday, July 4, 2011, I finally decided to go to the Commission on Election Office in Quezon City to have my registration as a voter validated. I shared the thumb and forefinger print of both of my hands, as well as the photo image of my face, to the Comelec’s voter registration data capturing machine (I am not sure if the machine now is still called DCM). For the first time, I witnessed and participated in a “biometrics taking” project intended to improve the integrity of the voter registry.
I have been a registered voter since the general registration in 1997 that started the system of continuing registration. I made sure that my name stayed in the list by voting every election since then. But I had also been lukewarm about submitting myself to previous registration validation projects because of alleged corruption in the purchases of equipment and machines. I finally succumbed because things look better now (plus the fact that a pending bill making it mandatory even for existing voters to undergo biometrics taking procedures would most likely become a law).
The process was quick and convenient. It was over in three minutes, which time period already included my small chit chats with the election assistants who assisted me in the effort.
However, one other reason why the process was quick was that there were not much people around. The machines were there, waiting to be used. From the information I gathered from my short banters with the local election workers, very few people were going to COMELEC offices to apply to register as new voters, to seek transfer of their registration records, to reactivate their deactivated registration, or to have their existing registration validated by submitting themselves to picture and finger print taking.
At the rate things are going, we may again see chaos and confusions a few weeks before the deadline as people who could register now seem to choose to just beat the deadline later.
Chaos in the final days of registration is a perennial problem. This is ironic considering that we have had a system of continuing registration since 1997. Continuing Registration means that qualified voters my apply to be registered as voters anytime during office hours on office days (except the prescribed period before elections) This is a departure from the previous system (prior to Republic Act 8189) where there were only two designated days for registration.
Is the problem because Filipinos love to procrastinate and simply prefer to beat deadlines? Or is it because COMELEC does not have an effective information program to make citizens aware of the voter registration system and procedures in place. Or perhaps political parties and electoral reform CSOs have defaulted on their duty and obligation to continuously engaged the voters even in between elections.
Maybe all of the above are true, but I find it hard to completely commiserate with irate citizens complaining about the inconveniences of the long hours of waiting and falling in line on the last day of registration. They have all the time to register and the time includes now, two years before the scheduled election!
Campaign for voter registration must be done in earnest even between elections. There is no reason why citizens cannot perform their duty to register during this period of election lull. There is no reason why political parties and CSOs should slacken in their voter registration campaigns. More importantly, there can be no more acceptable reason for COMELEC to suspend continuing registration for a substantial amount of time, as they have done before. As a public service institution, it should make sure that the infrastructure for registration, biometrics or otherwise, should continually be in place to afford citizens all the opportunity to register as voters, to transfer their registration records, to reactivate their deactivated registration, or to validate their existing registration, anytime as contemplated by law.