Free to vote: Voting behind bars

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Detainee voters at the maximum security in New Bilibid Prison exercise their voting rights during the national and local elections on May 9. Detainee voting in 2016 is more efficient and transparent compared to the 2010 national election, according to reports. (Photo: Yen Ocampo)

MANILA, May 10, 2016 – Without much fanfare and seemingly behind the scenes, some 42,252 inmates nationwide got to cast their vote during the May 9 elections. How was it done?

“We recognize the rights of the detainees to vote and choose their respective candidates,” said NBP Supt. Richard W. Schwarzkopf, Jr.

Commission on Elections (Comelec) Resolution 9371 states that detainees, since they have not been convicted, can vote in a specially designated polling place inside jails or escorted to vote elsewhere if the registration record is not transferred, deactivated, canceled or deleted.

‘Fair and transparent’

“We have a special voting system here (NBP) for the detainees,” said Jose C. Lazar, one of the pollwatchers at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP).

He explained that ballot boxes were sourced from different precincts outside the NBP like from the National Housing Authority.

“After they [detainees] cast their votes, the ballot boxes will return from the respective precincts where it came from to feed at the voting machines. (sic) As pollwatchers we have to ensure these ballots are safe,” he explained.

Lazar added that the NBP’s voting system “is generally fair and transparent”, although, fears of ballot-switching still linger.

“The voting system in NBP this 2016 is more efficient compared [to] the last election because of the transparency. The casting of the votes of the inmates should be transparent and fair,” Lazar concluded.

To further ensure this, COMELEC had the ballot boxes escorted by the Philippine National Police (PNP).

Unlike regular voting precincts, manual voting was adopted at the NBP, according to Schwarzkopf.

Comelec coordination

“Our general process was very peaceful and smooth because of our coordination with the COMELEC. We had special meetings on our part to maintain the peace process before and after the election,” explained Schwarzkopf.

Legal Network for Truthful Elections (LENTE) also observed that in general, detainee voting went smoothly and without any irregularities during yesterday’s polls.

“It was generally ok aside from being late. We started at 7:20 a.m. because of the deficiency in the physical arrangement. Lack of tables in some clusters precinct and lack of ballots,” said John B. Din, a LENTE volunteer assigned at the maximum security prison in NBP, Muntinlupa.

There are 43 voting precincts in NBP to accomodate some 2,056 detainee voters.

“It is hard to maintain the privacy or secrecy of the detainee voters because of the situation. Unlike the outside voting system, there were no rooms for every precinct here (NBP voting area),” added Din.

He added that there are 3,222 detainee voters in all bureaus and 2,056 detainee voters in maximum security. Over-all, NBP has some 23,000 detainees. (Yen Ocampo / CBCPNews)

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