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YouthVote: Voter Education Should Familiarize Voters with New Process

PHILIPPINES. As voter registration ends, YouthVote Philippines, steps up its voter education campaign with the second round of its time-and-motion study on filling up the ballot held yesterday (October 24) at the San Isidro Central School, Nueva Ecija.

Results of the recent study show that, on average, it may take a voter six (6) minutes and one (1) second to fill up the proposed ballot for the automated elections. This is an improvement from the average of the first study conducted in Tanauan, Batangas, which recorded an average of eight (8) minutes and four (4) seconds.

“Proper orientation on the voting process can really help a voter fill up the ballot easier and faster,” said Ching Jorge, YouthVote lead convener. “The result is a welcome development and we’re gearing our voter education program to not only get people informed about the candidates but to also familiarize them with the ballot and the new process.”

The series of study, conducted with PoliticalArena. com, uses an improvised ballot based on the sample design of the Commission on Elections (COMELEC). The ballot used for the second study featured substitute questions for 32 electoral positions with 338 candidates printed on both sides of the paper. For its second round, YouthVote shortened the ballot size from 25 to 20 inches and adjusted the font size to Arial Narrow 11 also as per COMELEC advice.

In an exit interview, participants of the study generally had positive feedback. Several teachers, elderly and experienced voters, who participated in the study, said they were relieved that voting will still be done using paper ballots, as they were afraid that automated elections meant computerized voting. Previous Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) chairpersons also expressed relief that the voting process will not be very different from past elections. A 74-year old voter said he was thankful the youth were initiating change. A total of 534 people of voting age participated in the study.

“People are always wary about new processes especially for events that will impact them personally like elections. It’s important that experienced voters have seen that it is not so much changing the old process but making it more efficient,” said Jaime Garchitorena, YouthVote information technology strategist. “What we need to do now, especially COMELEC and other groups with voter education programs, is to enlighten the public on which parts of the process will be automated, which parts will be a bit different and which parts will be similar.”

“As we improve the way we conduct elections, we think we should also improve the way we conduct voter education. Aside from knowing more about the candidates and developing democratic criteria, people should also now be informed on how exactly to engage the electoral process so they won’t feel indifferent,” added Tanya Hamada, YouthVote regional convener.

Unlike the first round, the second time-and-motion study was multi-sectoral and included out-of-school and elderly voters. Also, participants were oriented on the mechanics of filling up the ballot to avoid over-voting and shading problems. “When we released the results of the first study, some people said we got a good average time because our participants were all students who are used to shading, like when they do it during exams,” Jorge explained. “But with the result of the second study, it goes to show that with proper guidance even experienced voters can easily adjust to the new process.”

The activity was the group’s proactive response to concerns regarding difficulties and delays that might be caused by the new process and clustering of precincts. The COMELEC plans to collapse the existing 320,415 voting precincts into 80,146 clustered precincts in order to match the available 82,200 counting machines, also known as PCOS (Precinct Count Optical Scan). The new set up will cluster up to 1,000 registered voters in every precinct, which will be open for 11 hours.

“We thought it better to experiment and investigate instead of whining about automated elections,” said Garchitorena. “I think the youth and the public in general deserves to know the facts of this new technology and process.”

Since June 2008, YouthVote has engaged COMELEC in dialogue to immediately resume the registration of voters to accommodate more new registrants. They have been working with COMELEC to ensure that the youth would be a significant voice in the 2010 elections and successfully lobbied for a petition outlining four (4) possible areas where YouthVote could help COMELEC address limitations of the registration process for students and young professionals away from their areas of residence: 1)utilizing schools for a registration/ information campaign; 2)expanding the availability of registration materials to schools and the internet; 3)setting-up satellite registration centers or field mobile registration units; and 4)assigning additional special registration days each first Saturday of the month.

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