Own Up To Dismal Turnout, Glitches in AES, COMELEC Told

“With only a few days left for the Overseas Absentee Voting (OAV), all signs say that less than 50% of registered voters in Hong Kong will be able to vote. Thousands of OFWs have again been disenfranchised in this election no matter how many times the COMELEC tries to deny it and cover up its irresponsibility,” said Cynthia Abdon-Tellez, chair of Gabriela Women’s Party – HK chapter, as the closing of the OAV approaches. To date, voters turnout in Hong Kong – consistently the OAV topnotcher – is just more than 31,000.

Abdon-Tellez projected that after May 10, only a little more than 40,000 will be able to vote in Hong Kong. It is less than half of the 95,355 registered voters and also a far cry from the 60,000 target turnout. In the presidential elections in 2004, about 65,000 OFWs voted in Hong Kong.

“According to migrants groups in other countries, the turnout of voters are also not that significant despite may 10 being a presidential election and the first time the automated election system would be used. The COMELEC and Philippine posts in charge of the OAV including the Philippine Consulate General here should not dare make feel-good statements anymore on how they were conducting elections abroad,” Abdon-Tellez said.

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Abdon-Tellez said, that they have already expressed their fears to the COMELEC and the PCG-HK that the delays and severe lack of information and education will impact the turnout of voters.

“Similar inaction characterized the 2004 and 2007 OAV and it was only through the efforts of migrant organizations that the turnout was raised. There was not enough budget allotted for education and information. Efforts to encourage OFWs to vote were insufficient. The same pattern in this year’s polls shows that either the COMELEC did not learn its lessons or they are just unconcerned if majority of the OFWs will not be able to exercise their right of suffrage,” she added.

The group said the COMELEC should not have only concerned itself with the technicalities of the voting process of the AES. What was more important was educating the voters on how to vote properly in order to not let their ballot get spoiled, Abdon-Tellez said.

The women’s group also scored the hundreds of OFW voters who have been de-listed or whose names have been misplaced.

“We have cases of OFWs who voted either in 2004 and 2007 but still got stricken off the list. Meanwhile, other OFW voters were made to wait for days to get their names located before they could vote. That has caused much inconvenience to the OFWs whose only chance to vote was on their one day-off within the week,” Abdon-Tellez stated.

She reported that their information booths for the past weeks yielded more than140 voters whose names were not included. Of this number, more than 100 have not yet been located.

Aside from the low turnout, Abdon-Tellez said the problems arising from the conduct of the AES in Hong Kong should be reason for concern in its conduct soon in the Philippines.

The group said the following are some of the irregularities in the AES that, Abdon-Tellez said, should have been addressed by May 10.

1. Ballots accepted by the PCOS machine even if an ordinary ballpoint pen was used. COMELEC said before that the customized pen was supposedly the only one that the machine will recognize.
2. Breakdown of PCOS machines due to humidity that caused regular voting to stop for more than two hours.
3. Ballot accepted by the PCOS machine even after more than four tries which the Smartmatic and the COMELEC said were the maximum number of tries a voter can have.

“With the recent pullout of CF cards to allegedly reconfigure them and with all other glitches experienced in the month-long OAV, the COMELEC should just stop building a fantastic picture of a problem-free AES. Instead, they should be honest enough to point out the weaknesses of the system so that the voting public would be more vigilant in guarding their votes against any attempt to rig the elections,” Abdon-Tellez said.

Gabriela in Hong Kong said the COMELEC and Philippine overseas posts should own up to the dismal turnout of the OAV.

“For once, COMELEC must hold itself accountable for the disenfranchisement of OFWs. There should be no more denial and cover up,” she concluded.

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