Digitalizing voter registration

By: Moira G. Gallaga - @inquirerdotnet - Columnist/Philippine Daily Inquirer | December 14,2022 - 08:00 AM

Voter registration resumed last Monday, Dec. 12, and will run up to Jan. 31, 2023, while for overseas voters the registration period will be up to Sept. 30, 2024, in preparation for the 2025 midterm elections. The resumption of registration was originally scheduled for Dec. 9 but was moved to Dec. 12 to allow for the pilot testing of the Register Anywhere Project (RAP) of the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

RAP is supposed to make the process of voter registration more convenient, which is a commendable initiative. However, the whole registration process, whether local or overseas, will still require a personal appearance at a registration center, downloading and filling out forms, the capture of biometrics, and a fair bit of manual processing. This means people will still need to find the time to prepare the application forms, go to a registration center, and perhaps even wait a bit in line.

At the back end of this activity, the Comelec will need to invest in resources to consolidate all the voter registration data collected and then update the roster of certified voters. I would like to assume that the whole process is now more or less automated and digitalized, but the fact that the whole exercise of recapturing biometrics every voter registration period needs to be done kind of indicates that the whole process has not maximized the benefits of digitalization. I have been involved in several overseas registration drives in the past, so I wonder what happened to all the biometric data that were captured and consolidated into the Comelec database? It gives the feeling we are all starting from scratch every election period, and it ends up taking a lot of time, resources, and effort. It’s high time the whole process be made more efficient, convenient, and cost-effective.

Digital transformation has been identified by President Marcos Jr. as a priority and a key driver for the country’s growth. The digitalization of the voter registration process would be in line with this policy and provide opportunities to improve the experience of registrants and the efficiency of Comelec’s consolidation and utilization of the data.

It may be recalled that in 2017 the Comelec stopped the issuance of its voter’s ID in anticipation of the roll-out of a national ID or the Philippine Identification System (PhilSys) ID. While the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) is facing a backlog in the printing of the PhilSys ID, they are in the process of issuing digital versions as a stopgap measure. That shouldn’t be a problem because everyone who registers for a PhilSys ID is issued a unique, permanent individual 12-digit PhilSys Number (PSN). This PSN is the key component of the whole system because only one unique PSN is issued to each person. It may be deactivated and reactivated under certain conditions under the law and its IRR, but it is not to be “recycled” or used by someone else. Biometrics and personal data are tied to the PSN and this is the feature that ensures the integrity and validity of the PhilSys ID card. Making use of those features of the PhilSys ID can open up many opportunities to improve and simplify the voter registration process. If personal appearance is still needed as a security measure, at least forms and biometric capture can be done away with as processors can use QR code scanners to access needed data in the PhilSys ID and a finger scanner can be used to match the biometric of the registrant with the presented ID. Fewer steps will be required, the database is updated in real time, and faster processing time leads to shorter waiting times for the public.

To make this work effectively, the PSA and the Comelec will need to collaborate closely in setting up compatible software, digital infrastructure and systems that would facilitate interfacing between their respective database. If this is happening already, I haven’t heard anything much about such an initiative. If they haven’t considered the concept, perhaps it is time that they start to do so as these things cannot be put into place overnight. As the government pursues its national digital transformation policy and program, that sort of collaboration will be required of all agencies anyway.

Moira G. Gallaga is an author. She served three Philippine presidents as presidential protocol officer, and was posted as a diplomat at the Philippine consulate general in Los Angeles and the Philippine Embassy in Washington.

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TAGS: Comelec, IRR, Voter Registration
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