Monday, April 19, 2010

Voting as an OFW in Singapore

by Carmelita C. Ballesteros

The last time I voted in the Philippines was in 1992. So it has been 18 years of nonparticipation in the electoral process for me. This year, I am taking part in the process again.

This is a historic election year for me for several reasons. First, I am voting as an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) in Singapore. Second, I am taking part in the very first automated Philippine elections. Third, I am making my small voice heard in the clamor for a return to decency, honesty, and integrity in Philippine politics and governance. Fourth, I want my grandchildren to know that I care for their future.

Where and When to Vote

All registered voters in Singapore must go to the Philippine Embassy on Nassim Road. It is a road with several embassies and condominium towers and it is a walking distance from the Orchard MRT Station.

Overseas absentee voters (OAV) may vote in Singapore from April 10 to May 10, 2010. The Embassy is open for voting on a daily basis, Monday to Sunday, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

As I walked closer towards the Philippine Embassy, I noticed that white tents had been put up on its grounds.

Voter's ID?

There's no need for a voter's ID. I did not receive any. After verifying my name in the list of OAVs in the Comelec website, I took my Philippine passport and Singapore employment pass with me to the embassy.

The Voting Process
17 April 2010, 10:45 - 10:55 a.m.

1. At the embassy gate. There was no queue. I walked in all by myself. A female guard made a cursory inspection of my handbag. I was neither asked for identification nor was I asked to sign in the log book.

2. A smiling male volunteer immediately welcomed me, steered me toward the holding area, and gave me a registration number.

3. The holding area is an enclosed, air-conditioned tent. Having experienced long and sweat- inducing queues at the Philippine Embassy, the holding area was like a dream.

Another smiling male volunteer offered me a seat in front of a computer manned by another volunteer. He took my registration number and asked for my passport. He verified my name in his computer.

After a few seconds, he asked me to write my passport number as well as Singapore ID number, then sign a registration log book. Then he gave me a number which said "P-1."

While I was doing this, I noticed that someone with a camera was videotaping the process (not me). He was obviously part of the team.

4. An alert volunteer steered me towards a door which led to P-1 or Voting Precinct 1. This was also an enclosed, air-conditioned tent. The dream isn't a dream. Another volunteer took my P-1 number, then led me to the registration table. The female volunteer asked me for any ID, then verified my name.

After a few seconds, she asked me to sign a registration log book.

5. I was immediately given a very long folder containing my ballot. A volunteer explained to me that I should shade the oval opposite the name of the candidate I have chosen. He said I may under-vote, but not over-vote. It means voting for only 1 president, 1 vice-president, 12 senators, and 1 party-list representative. Over-voting would mean the disqualification of my ballot.

"Is there a time limit?" I asked. "No," he said.

"What will I use for shading?" I asked again. "There's a marker on each desk," he said.

The ballot was 26 inches long. I did not have a ruler at the time so I used my hand to measure it. Apat na dangkal ang haba. The folder, which was supposed to cost Php370.00 each till a whistle-blower exposed the scam, was made of two ordinary long folders taped together.

6. I sat down at the back. There were 15 ordinary school tablet arm chairs in three rows. Each tablet had been fastened with a cardboard shield to prevent one's seatmates from 'copying.' A felt-tipped marker with black ink was tied to the tablet with a string.

As suggested in some voters' education flyers, I brought my list of candidates with me. I fished it out from my handbag and started shading the little ovals.

Before giving back my ballot tucked inside the folder to a poll volunteer, I made sure that I had voted for 12 senators. I wrote down my ballot ID number in my list of candidates . I noticed that my ballot had been pre-signed by the Board of Election Inspection registrar(?).

There was only one voter before me. He was already seated when I came in. I watched him feed his ballot into the PCOS or scanning machine.

7. The poll volunteer asked me to remove my ballot from the folder. Then he asked me to feed the ballot into the PCOS machine. It snapped up my ballot, then sucked it in. After a few seconds, it said, "Congratulations."

I took note that I was voter number 189 in that PCOS machine.

8. Another voted had come in. While the female volunteer at the table attended to her, a male volunteer asked me to thumb mark (right thumb) the same registration log book I had signed earlier. Then he applied indelible ink on my right index finger.

I sat down near the door of P-1 to take another look. There were four volunteers in all. The door was made of steel and glass.

Automated Voting Was a Breeze!

It helped, of course, that my voting precinct was air-conditioned and the volunteers were warm, welcoming, and helpful.

I went to the back of the embassy to look around. There are seven air-conditioned precincts altogether. There was a friendly volunteer stationed at the corner with a sign saying, "To P3 - P7." He asked me if he could help me. I said I was done and was just looking around.

I felt a sense of well-being and optimism as I left the embassy grounds.