Overseas voters turnout very low, media and online voting mode critical

Compared to the Philippine national average for voters turnout in the last elections, participation of overseas Filipinos in Philippine elections has still a long way to go.

In the last election, out of 589,830 registered voters, only 153,323 or about 26 percent voted, according to Comelec statistics. The Philippine national average turnout was 75 percent.

By region, Asia which we gathered from Comelec figures included Australia and Oceania had a turnout of 31.87 percent (66,687 out of 215,546 registered voters), followed by America – 29.75 percent (19,854/66,745), Europe – 28.80 percent (17,650/61,294), and Middle East – 20.93 percent (47,152/225,148).

Drilling down through Comelec statistics on Philippine overseas posts with 1,000 or more registered voters, we noted the following:

1. Of the Philippines’ 93 embassy/consular posts in various countries reported by Comelec, more than half (55 posts) had 1,000 or more registered voters during the May 10, 2010 elections.

These posts accounted for 546,874 or 93 percent of the 589,830 registered voters in 2010.

2. The top five posts in terms of registered voters were –
* Hong Kong – 95,355
* Riyadh – 52,829
* Jeddah – 37,083
* Singapore – 31,851
* Dubai – 30,679

3. During the 2010 elections, overseas posts used personal voting, postal voting or automated voting.

4. By mode of voting, there were 26 posts that employed personal voting, 27 posts used postal voting and 2 had automated voting system – Hong Kong and Singapore.

5. The average voters turnout of posts by mode of voting was 21.53 percent for those which used personal voting, and 26.72 percent for those which used postal voting which is higher than the average turnout for overseas voters of 25.99 per cent.

Hong Kong had a turnout of 30.13 percent and Singapore, 41.34 percent. (These are higher than those in the same groupings, ie, 20,000 registered voters or more, possibly due to the relatively shorter travel between the voters residence and their respective poll centres.)

5. The top overseas posts in the 2010 elections grouped by number of registered voters ~ and in terms of “those who voted”, “number of registered voters”, “voters turnout” and “mode of voting” ~ were as follows:

1,000 to less than 3,000 registered voters:
Geneva – 638 / 1,159 / 55.05% (Postal)
Sydney – 674 / 1,507 / 44.72% (Postal)
Honolulu – 532 / 1,216 / 43.75% (Postal)

3,000 to less than 5,000 registered voters:
Paris – 1,475 / 4,660 / 31.65% (Postal)
Madrid – 932 / 3,107 / 30.00% (Postal)

5,000 to less than 10,000 registered voters:
Saipan – 3,341 / 7,171 / 46.59% (Personal)
New York – 2,700 / 7,877 / 34.28% (Postal)
Chicago – 1,754 / 5,432 / 32.29% (Postal)

10,000 to less than 20,000 registered voters:
Los Angeles – 3,609 / 11,975 / 30.14%

20,000 or more registered voters:
Hong Kong – 39,419 / 95,355 / 41.34% (Automated)
Singapore – 9,598 / 31,851 / 30.13% (Automated)

Moving forward: Joining Hong Kong and Singapore into the ranks of those that will be using an automated voting system this coming May 13 midterm elections are Dubai, Jeddah, Kuwait and Riyadh.

NOTE: This table from Comelec requires updating, as Comelec Commissioner Lucenito Tagle recently announced the automation of Abu Dhabi’s overseas voting.

These six embassy/consular posts have a combined 297,489 registered voters or 30.5 percent of the 975,263 registered overseas voters.

Comelec chairman Sixto Brillantes two weeks ago was reportedly quoted as saying that the Comelec expected 60 percent of registered overseas voters to be casting their ballots in next month’s midterm elections.

With only 25.99 percent voters turnout to show in last elections, Chairman Brillantes’ statement may be considered unrealistically optimistic.

The highest turnout achieved in the last election was from Geneva at 55.55 percent, but Geneva had only a little over 1,000 registered voters ~ certainly not a big factor to influence the overall average turnout for overseas voters.

The Comelec has to consider also that there are at least 250,000 registered overseas voters who are in jurisdictions where personal voting is still the mode. In the last election, the average turnout for personal voting was only 21.53 percent ~ much lower than the overall average of 25.99 percent and also lower than postal voting’s 26.72 percent turn out.

Will automated voting in five additional overseas posts help improve voters turnout?

Except for the system’s novelty (at least to some), the use of automation is not known to increase voters turnout.

As in personal voting mode, electors have to “personally appear” in a poll centre to cast their ballots using a PCOS (Precint Count Optical Scan) machine.

With only only two weeks to election date, the key to improving voters turnout is media ~ radio, internet, social media, emails, SMS.

No one needs convincing the extent the internet, social media, emails and SMS have penetrated the Philippine population, overseas Filipinos included.

Campaign for voters participation via media is the call for the day.

And for the next election, we can move on to internet voting for a fuller suffrage rights of global Filipinos.