MAIL-VOTING OR MAL-VOTING?

Ijtihad

Mehol K. Sadain

Less than eighteen months from now the country will have another national presidential election. Judging from the usual intensity of elections in the Philippines, the emerging colorful tangling personalities, the raging issues of corruption and violence played against the backdrop of the covid-19 threat in crowded gatherings like campaigns and election-day voting, the elections of 2022 is shaping into a circus ready to intrigue and entertain.

This early there are talks of solving the covid19 crowd problem by introducing mail voting, which is, more or less, allowing voters to receive ballots by mail, vote in the privacy of their homes, and mail these ballots back to the Commission on Elections before the scheduled election day. This way, less voters will have to troop to the precincts to vote. The bottom-line is to assure that no voter, even if he cannot leave his home, is disenfranchised. This was done in the recent American elections, and yielded mixed reviews from the winners and the losers.

Can mail voting be done in the Philippines? Yes, it may be done, and the COMELEC can promulgate rules for this kind of voting, like it has done with the pre-election day voting for members of media and the Board of Election Inspectors who are busy with their jobs on election day. But note that mail voting has a difference with advance voting in its added feature of voting at home after receiving the ballot, and returning this ballot to the Comelec within the allowed time.

To merit implementation, therefore, mail voting must comply with the postulates of a genuine and credible election: Only a qualified voter votes by casting his or her vote in secrecy. The secrecy requirement is mandated by the constitution in the article on suffrage when it says, “the Congress shall provide a system for securing the secrecy and sanctity of the ballot.” [Art. V, Sec.2, 1987 Constitution]

For mail voting to accomplish its purpose and be a valid means for enfranchisement it must proceed as follows: 1. The voter’s correct identification and address should be in the Comelec’s updated database; 2. The ballot should be mailed to the right, existing registered voter; 3. The registered voter should receive his ballot through the mail, and personally vote his choice of candidates; and 4. After voting, the said voter must now mail or return his filled ballot to the Comelec, where it should be deposited in a safeguarded place, which is usually a ballot box that is locked and stored in a secured room. In short, the two main problems of mail voting are ballot handling and custody, which are both system and method concerns. Otherwise, what is conceived as an enfranchisement solution will end up as a disenfranchisement horror — mail voting tragically turning into mal-voting.

Elections in far-flung and unguarded precincts in Muslim-dominated areas have been far from ideal. It is marked by substitute voting, vote buying, election day coercion, and violence that leads to premature closing of precincts and termination of voting. We seem to forget that choosing our leaders is a solemn trust, and elections based on the vote of the majority are forms of consultative actions in government. Elections and consultations, or elections as consultations, are not to be trifled with.

In the chapter of the Qur’aan titled “as-shuura” or “the consultation”, Allah describes the believers as those who respond to (their) Lord, establish regular prayer; and who conduct their affairs by mutual consultation, and who spend out of what We bestow on them for sustenance.” [Surah XLII, Ayat 38, Al-Qur’aan] Thus the affair of choosing a leader may rightfully be conducted through an election, thereby giving elections the Islamic imprimatur of propriety. You violate election rules, you infringe the rules of mutual consultation. MKS

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