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Comelec in talks with foreign firms for overseas internet-voting

Talks are underway for an internet-based voting system for overseas voters in the 2016 elections, an official of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) said Monday.

Commissioner Lucenito Tagle, head of the committee on overseas voting, said the Comelec is talking with two interested firms that promised to ensure the protection of the ballot from being hacked.

He did not give the names of the firms, only saying that these are American and Spanish companies.

"One Spanish company already demonstrated to us that internet voting can be done and with sufficient security," Tagle said on Monday at the sidelines of the Comelec's conference with stakeholders for the drafting of the implementing rules and regulations on the amended overseas voting law.

Seafarers to benefit, too

Tagle noted that internet voting can benefit not only overseas voters but even registered seafarers.

“If we adopt internet-voting, they can even vote in the high seas. Imagine that they don't have to go down to vote. And many overseas Filipino voters don't have to get out of their house to vote,” he said.

Internet-voting or casting the ballot through a website or e-mail is seen by the Comelec as a way to breach the gap between the voters' residence and the voting center set up in embassies, as distance of the polling center has been the common complaint among overseas voters.

“The main reason is the inconvenience caused on the voter even if they have a month's period to vote, and the distance of the embassy and the inability to make time," explained Foreign Affairs undersecretary Jose Brillantes, who was present in the conference.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) is the secondary agency on overseas voting.

Amended overseas voting law

President Benigno Aquino III signed last May the newly amended overseas voting law or the Republic Act No. 10590, a supposedly fine-tuned law that could improve the usually dismal turn-out in overseas elections.

But the new law did not specifically cite internet-voting as a method of casting the ballot, only mandating the Comelec to explore "other (voting) systems" whether paper- or internet-based.

Senate committee on electoral reforms chairman Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III, who was also present at the conference, said the law does not specify internet-based voting because of questions on security.

“Is it secure enough? If it's secure enough, ang tanong sa akin, how come the more developed countries are not adopting it?” Pimentel said at the sidelines of the conference.

Pimentel added that if internet-voting is proven safe, it should not be limited to overseas voting. He urged the Comelec to “take advantage of their authority to explore other systems.”

Comelec chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. earlier expressed disappointment over the 16 percent turnout during the 2013 elections, significantly down from 25.99 percent in the 2010 elections.

At Monday's conference, Brillantes said he was optimistic that the turnout would pick up after the law supposedly loosened the stringent requirements of the old law.


"In the 2010 and 2013 elections, the overseas voting was a disaster, in quotations. Because a disaster is not expected. We expected the overseas elections to be not very good," the poll chief said.

"Considering the new law, I think we will be able to come up with a very, very good overseas voting (in 2016)," Brillantes added.

The new law, among others, provides for the creation of the Office of Overseas Voting within the Comelec that would run the overseas elections, as well as an in-house Election Registration Board in the Comelec and in every voting post that would sift through voters' registration records.

The amended law also cancelled the "affidavit of intent" rule that states a voter may only be registered if he or she promises to take up a permanent residence in the Philippines not later than three years after the approval.

The new law also gives an option for voters who failed to vote in two elections to reactivate their deactivated registration records. The old law immediately delisted these voters.

The law also dropped the tag "absentee" voting for overseas voters, supposedly to treat them as ordinary voters who happened to be working abroad.

The Comelec has asked the stakeholders to submit their suggestions on the amended law's implementing rules and regulations before the end of November for approval by the en banc early December, Brillantes said. — KBK, GMA News