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The Philippines Expands E-Voting for Overseas Workers

The Philippines has proposed expanding electronic voting (e-voting) for citizens who work overseas, with a lawmaker introducing legislation allowing overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and seafarers to register, receive ballots and vote using available electronic means.

OFW Party List Rep. Marissa Magsino filed House Bill 6770, stating that there is a need to alter the existing law by increasing voting ways to prevent voter disenfranchisement of about 1.83 million OFWs exercising their right to vote. The proposed legislation would allow Filipino employees abroad to vote by electronic mail, web-based portals, and other internet-based technologies.

According to the Commission on Elections’ Office of Overseas Voting (OOV), only 472,559 people voted out of a total of 1.69 million registered overseas voters for a 27.87% turnout in the 2022 national and local elections. The measure proposes to alter Republic Act 9189, also known as the ‘Overseas Absentee Voting Act of 2003,’ as revised by Republic Act No. 10590, also known as the ‘Overseas Voting Act of 2013’.

“There is no provision in the law that allows our OFWs or seafarers to vote if they cannot travel to these diplomatic postings abroad while on board a vessel or on the high seas, or if their employment conditions prevent them from being doing so,” she said.

According to Magsino, electronic voting is permitted in some countries for specific sectors stationed overseas, mainly service members and their families, via email, fax, or internet-voting platforms. She emphasised that voting, or the right to vote, is a vital component of democracy. Therefore, the right of the people to pick their representatives, to whom they commit the exercise of government powers, must be maintained. The e-voting project should make voting rights available to all OFWs, especially as they have been hailed as modern-day heroes, bringing in more than US$34.9 billion in remittances to the country.

Despite the passing of an amendatory law in 2013, voting options for OFWs still need to be expanded, notably for Filipino sailors, due to the peculiar nature of their profession. OFWs can now only vote in person or by mail at any Philippine embassy, consulate, or foreign service establishment located or near any foreign seaport or at their place of employment, where they may happen to be during election times.

“The gaps in the existing laws and regulations on overseas absentee voting must be addressed for OFWs and OFs (overseas Filipinos) to fully participate in our elections, allowing them to effectively exercise one of the key attributes of their Filipino citizenship – the right to choose their leaders,” she pointed out.

The legislation would include tools to improve existing techniques and procedures for OFW and OF absentee voting while respecting the sanctity of their votes. Postal voting seafarer voting may vote through postal or electronic means during the election process.

The Philippines is constantly improving its election technology. For example, early in 2022, the national election commission collaborated with a technology business to assist voters in fact-checking material about the May 9 polls. The move was the first in the history of Philippine national elections.

The internet company made important election data available on its video-sharing website, one of the country’s most popular social media sites. The video platform will specifically contain election information panels at the top of search results when people search for candidate names. It will include information about the candidates, their political parties, the position they are running for, and other pertinent information.

When users join the platform and search for a candidate’s name, they will initially see the platform’s vital information on the candidate and an information display on “how to vote” and links to the Comelec website.

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