Here we go again.
First, to say that people failed to register “largely due to the failure of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to conduct an information drive,” is a gross oversimplification. There are many reasons for the people’s failure to register, not the least of which is apathy. Another major cause is the constant campaign to discredit the Commission, which creates the mindset that elections are futile exercises. To say that the COMELEC failed to conduct an information drive ignores the many newspaper ads we have placed throughout the registration period, the number of times we have managed to get a word in edgewise on radio and tv broadcasts, and the fact that the registration period started almost two years before the December 2006 deadline.
Second, people often note that several million people “failed to register.” This is an unfair formulation; the use of the word “failed” implies that they tried but did not succeed. It would be closer to the truth to say that they “did not” register. Take for instance, the youth.
Many youth groups advocating registration emerged in the last two quarters of registration season. Where were they before then? According to many of them, they were busy with other things. The point is that registration as a voter is a personal choice. It is not a duty imposed by law, but an act of one’s own volition. And that, perhaps, is the ost significant factor one must consider when talking about voter registration. Many of those who could have, simply didn’t think it was necessary to come early, and many of those who should have simply didn’t want to.
And third, there are far too many distractions for potential voters, so much so that the voter education message being propagated by the COMELEC is too often overshadowed by other issues such as people’s initiative.
One of the problems is that formulating a voter’s education program is not as straightforward as simply launching an ad campaign.
A voter’s education program – a true voter’s education program – seeks to integrate in the minds of voters the concept that elections are an indispensable part of democracy, that voters themselves are responsible for the kind of people they vote into office, and that voters should never take their right to vote lightly, much less sell it off to the highest bidder. All of these imperatives require that we bring about a seachange in the way our voters currently perceive democracy and the vote; and to achieve these goals will require effective and wide-ranging programs beyond just going to isolated groups and lecturing them.
These programs include the insertion of voter education modules in school curricula, the maximisation of modern technology as a way of reaching out to potential voters, and a means to ensure that these messages are not relegated to the backs of voters’ minds when there is no scheduled electoral exercise in the immediate future. Certainly, part of our concern is that publications rarely ever talk about these concepts except in the run-up to an election.
The voter’s education program being prepared by the COMELEC aims to achieve these goals. We do not advocate ad hoc, stop gap measures even though these stop-gap measures may be high profile or make good copy.