Registration Fatigue Slows Voters Turnout

CHICAGO (FAXX/jGLi) —  In some parts of the United States, anybody who wants to vote can do so by registering to vote:

a)     in person or by mail, by completing a mail-in registration form and delivering it to his city or town election officer; or

b)    at any local election office in any city or town in the state and at any registration event one encounters anywhere in the state; or

c)     when applying for or renewing a driver’s license at the Registry of Motor Vehicles or when applying for a service at a designated voter registration agency.

Registration forms are also available at all colleges, universities, high schools and vocational schools.

Only when one changes his name or changes his address that he needs to re-register by signing a form, printing it, signing it and sending it to local election official.

And he can only register in order to vote by absentee ballot:

a)     if he is absent from the city or town or residence and in the active service of the armed forces or in the merchant marine of the United States or a spouse or dependent of such person;

b)    absent from the state; and

c)     confined in a correctional facility or jail, except if by reason of felony conviction.

Although nobody must witness his ballot, if a voter cannot mark his absentee ballot with his thumb mark, for instance, if the voter is an amputee, he can ask any person to help. The helper must print his or her name and the voter’s name on the envelope, write the reason for needing help and then sign his or her name as the assisting person.

If for some reason, if a person has permanent disability, he must apply to his local election office to vote from home. He has to affix in his letter to local election office a letter from his doctor, describing his physical disability.

And if one is not under court-ordered guardianship, which prohibits him from voting, any patient in a nursing home must register and be an absentee voter.

28 DAYS BEFORE ELECTIONS CALL FOR HAND DELIVERY

If the election officer designates a health care facility in writing 28 days before the election, the ballot must be hand-delivered to such facility. If the patient says he/she was hospitalized in the after noon of the fifth day before the elections, the ballot may be hand-delivered to the voter. Otherwise, the ballot should be mailed to the voter at the facility.

In some jurisdiction, mailed-in ballots should be postmarked a day before, not after, the election as absentee ballots are counted after the elections.

When the Comelec disenfranchised the 238,557 Filipino Overseas Absentee Voters (OAVs) for failing to vote in the 2007 and 2010 elections, it was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. Thankfully, with the vigorous lobbying by U.S. Pinoys For Good Government (USP4GG) led by Attorneys Rodel Rodis and Ted Laguatan, this marginalization of the OAVs was later overturned.

Insanity is a ground for disqualification but not failure to vote twice in a row.

If failure to vote were to disenfranchise OAV’s from voting, then, when the U.S. 2008 presidential elections had a 64% turnout, why were the 36% who did not vote never penalized?

When OAVs from 26 countries “snubbed” the mid-term elections, blame could not entirely be laid on the OAV’s but more on the prevention imposed by Philippine Congress.

This suppression of votes started when Congress imposed a punitive requirement to “OAV voters to execute an “affidavit of intent to return” to the Philippines within three years of voting abroad. And if they failed to return within that three-year time period, they may face penalties that include imprisonment of up to one year.” Think of a goose that lays the golden egg. The OAVs also risked going to jail if they would not exercise a civic duty that is not even compulsory.

I think this suppression started with alleged stupid remarks made by former President Cory Aquino’s spokesman, Rep. Teddy “Boy” Locsin, who smeared overseas Filipinos as “traitors” when they searched for overseas work opportunities the Philippine government could not offer.

PERSONAL BENEFIT STRONG INCENTIVE

Some voters in the Philippines have strong incentive to vote if they would receive some favors, like money to line their pockets, if their candidates were elected.

But for OAVs, they only vote not only because it stands for democracy or is a matter of civic duty but they also fulfill some social or personal gratification when the candidates they voted into office delivered on their promise to improve the people’s lives.

In addition, time, effort and financial cost should not figure in his decision to vote either.

For instance, a friend of mine, Dennis Villanueva of Orlando, Florida, said that when he renewed his passport from the Philippine Consulate in Washington, D.C., several months ago, he also registered as a voter. But he never got his ballot in the snail mail. He was never told that if he did not get his ballot in the snail mail a month before the May 13 elections, he should have checked the Consulate’s websites for updates or should have called or emailed the Consulate to re-send him his ballot.

If he tried to go “in person” to D.C. just to vote, it will cost Villanueva not only hundreds of dollars by taking a plane but also long hours and extra effort.

And so with my other friend in San Jose, California, Fernando “Ronnie” M. Estrada, who registered to vote at the Philippine Consulate in San Francisco. Estrada was never told that in case he failed to receive his ballot by snail mail a month before the elections, he should have just come back to the Consulate to vote, and not wait for the ballot that never arrived. Not giving Estrada a certain deadline to go to the Consulate is like telling him to place a bet in a lottery. But it seemed such assurance of getting the ballot in the snail mail is now like winning the jackpot.

Both Villanueva and Estrada failed to vote. “Ayaw lang yata ng Comelec at ng Consulate gumastos para sa stamp o mga tamad lang sila.” (Perhaps, the Comelec and the Consulate were just too tightwad to buy stamps or just plain lazy.) 

So, it is not surprising that the turnout of OAV’s in Chicago, Illinois Philippine Consulate was a mere 16%. This percentage would even go lower if the Comelec were to impose more restrictions on the OAV’s in the future. But even so, if 16% turnout were applied to the total 589,830 OAVs worldwide, the 86,372 OAV’s worldwide could still factor in the tight No. 12 senatorial race.

But I always believe majority of the OAV’s have nothing but only concern for the well being of other Filipinos and not just for self-gratification. (lariosa_jos@sbcglobal.net)

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