Filipinos began casting their votes on Saipan as the field voting for the overseas absentee voting began Monday.
Registered voters came in trickles and were accommodated by batches.
“The turnout is fast paced, the voters arrived in successive waves and we haven’t had a break. We haven’t been able to keep track of the numbers but we will count the total ballots claimed by overseas voters this evening,” said consul Mark Hamoy of the Philippine Consulate General-Guam and the chair for the Special Ballot Reception and Custody Group.
Hamoy was deputized by the Philippine Commission on Elections to conduct the field voting in Saipan, which will last until April 28 at the Pedro P. Tenorio Multi-Purpose Center in Susupe.
The four-day field voting will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
There are about 11,900 registered Filipino voters in the PCG-Guam’s jurisdiction, which includes Guam, CNMI, Republic of Palau, Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of Marshall Islands.
In the CNMI, there are 5,768 registered voters, which is even more than Guam’s 3,000-plus voters.
As field voting cannot be conducted in the islands of Tinian and Rota, ballots have been mailed to the registered voters already, which they can submit until May 9.
Before receiving their packets, the field voters are to watch an instructional video on how to fill in the ballots properly and how to seal it in the provided envelope so that it will not be rendered invalid.
The packets contain their ballots, paper seal for the ballot, envelope for the ballot; list of candidates; and instructions for voters. According to Hamoy, they were the ones who sorted and put the packets together.
“If you are not a registered voter, if you’re not appearing anywhere on the certified list of voters, even if we believed you 100 percent that you registered, if you are not on the Comelec list, there’s nothing we can do. Only the people on the list have voting packets,” Hamoy said.
Voters had a choice to vote on the spot or take home their ballots to submit at a later date. Most of them opted to take home the ballots.
“That was to be expected because it’s a weekday, all the people here have work. I hope that all of them will return it to us before we end our operations here on Thursday. Otherwise they will have to send it to Guam themselves,” Hamoy said.
PCG-Guam has in its custody the automated vote counting machine. As the machine itself will not be brought to Saipan, the ballots with the sealed and signed return envelopes will be brought back to Guam where the officers will be the one to feed it to the machine.
“As the SBRCG, we will retain custody of the return ballots, bring these back to Guam and then these will be turned over to the Special Board of Election Inspectors. It’s a special body deputized by the Comelec, also consulate officials, and they will be the ones who will feed the ballots individually into the vote counting machine,” Hamoy said.
Asked how they can guarantee that the ballots will not be tampered with before it gets fed into the machine, Hamoy said he “cannot give that guarantee.”
“I personally cannot give that guarantee, we are just part of the massive system that has been implemented to give out voters abroad the right to vote. Everybody has the duty to be vigilant and make sure they report or at least the deputized officials of our embassies and consulates or deputized Comelec representatives, they can immediately register any complaint that they will have,” Hamoy said.
“I can assure you as far as the foreign service posts are concerned, we are trying to implement the mandate that was given to us for this elections in as transparent and as honest and as full integrity as possible,” he added.
For those who have yet to vote or claim their ballots must bring with them proper identification document such as valid IDs or their passport.
To ensure that they are qualified to vote, Filipinos are encouraged to check if their names are included in the Certified List of Overseas Voters (CLOV) for GUAM, which can be found in philippinesguam.org or in the Comelec website. —Saipan Tribune