Editorial: Disenfranchisement by pandemic

Voter registration for the 2022 elections will only be until Sept. 30.

In a press statement on Aug. 18, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) said it has ruled against extending the registration of new and disenfranchised voters until October.

Setting back the deadline of voter registration to at least October 2021 was urged by several lawmakers and youth groups, reported Rappler on Aug. 18.

In resolutions filed in Congress and Senate, legislators cite the interruptions of the process resulting from lockdowns in areas placed under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), such as Metro Manila, which underwent five months of ECQ in 2020 and at least two ECQs in 2021.

Placed under modified ECQ (MECQ) until Sept. 7, Metro Manila, Cebu City, Mandaue City, Lapu-Lapu City, and other areas in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao will have voter registration at local Comelec offices following an 8 a.m.-5 p.m. weekday schedule, reported Marites Villamor-Ilano of SunStar Philippines on Sept. 1.

MECQ areas will also have voter registration conducted at certain malls. In areas placed under less restrictive quarantine, registration begins at 8 a.m. and extends to 7 p.m. on weekdays. On Saturday and holidays, registration is conducted from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. until Sept. 30, the deadline.

As of Aug. 23, the Comelec said 61.06 million voters had registered, surpassing the office’s projection of 59 million registered for 2022, SunStar Philippines reported.

In contrast, the Philippine Statistics Authority projects 73.3 million voters for 2022, reported Rappler. Considering the Comelec’s reported 61 million voters registered so far, there are more than 12 million citizens that still have to register.

Disenfranchisement does not only refer to citizens who missed voting in two consecutive elections and thus, have been removed from the Comelec record of registered voters.

Disenfranchisement is the denial of a right or privilege. Applied to the right to vote, disenfranchisement covers the social inequalities of power and privilege that deprive minority groups, such as the less educated, poor, and marginalized, from taking part in the electoral process to choose leaders that can represent their interests and fight for the prioritization of their welfare in a democracy.

Even at its literal level, the verb “disenfranchise” involves a doer who dispossesses, takes away, or robs the subject of his or her right.

Lockdowns and the pandemic have deepened existent social inequalities and made most vulnerable many sectors who will justify prioritizing economic and physical survival over suffrage.

A citizen who will not be paid if unable to physically report to work can hardly justify to his employers or even to his family another day of absence and missed earnings to register in person at the local Comelec office.

Last August, the Comelec said it will make available online reactivation of voter registration. This applies only to those who missed voting in two recent successive elections. If the Comelec still has on file a citizen’s voter data biometrics, virtual reactivation of registration is permitted.

First-time voters have to register in person at the local Comelec office.

The Comelec should consider how to boost registration of voters for 2022, recognizing that disenfranchisement has a greater possibility than registration or online reactivation for many vulnerable sectors: persons with disability, the elderly, those with comorbidity, persons with limited or no digital literacy, and persons without connectivity.

In the thick of the pandemic, suffrage may diminish in the press of priorities confronting citizens day-to-day in the pandemic. Yet, exercising the right to select the persons to hold public office, allocate and account for public funds, and discharge duties with bearing on the public is of paramount importance, with implications for life and death.