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Party-list Rep. Ronnie Ong has proposed an early voting scheme for senior citizens and persons with disabilities (PWDs) in the upcoming national elections as the global coronavirus pandemic is expected to continue to pose health hazards on the said vulnerable sectors.

Ong, representative of Ang Probinsyano Party-list, has recently filed a proposed legislation which would allow the elderlies and PWDs to cast their votes within one month before the actual poll schedule.

He explained that the enactment of the New Normal of Voting Act under House Bill No. 7868 is a necessary step to ensure that the right of suffrage for senior citizens and PWDs is protected while” promoting their health and safety especially during the occurrence of calamities and health pandemics.”

“A new normal of voting or an early voting system shall be developed where the effective and full participation of these vulnerable sectors are encouraged, the secrecy and sanctity of their ballots upheld and their health and safety are ensured while exercising their right of suffrage,” the bill read.

Ong stressed that while the poll body has allowed local and overseas absentee voters to cast their votes about two to eight weeks before election day, early voting is still not allowed for senior citizens and PWDs.

The lawmaker noted that the previous leadership of the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) in 2017 has proposed that that senior citizens and PWDs should be allowed to vote at least a week or seven days before the actual election day but this did not fly amid the controversies which hounded former Chairman Andres Bautista.

According to Ong, the COVID-19 pandemic is looming large to disenfranchise 10-million senior citizens and PWDs because of potential health risks and deny them their constitutional right of suffrage.

“There is now a very compelling reason to develop a new normal of voting for our senior citizens and PWDs, and protect their right to vote while promoting their health and safety. This is the objective of the bill,” said Ong.

Under HB 7868, casting of vote shall be done within 30 days immediately preceding the day of election, the exact period or duration of which shall be determined and published by the COMELEC, taking into consideration the number of voters, who are Senior Citizens and PWDs, and other logistical requirements.

Health and safety protocol shall be put in place in designated polling stations—may include the mandatory use of mask, face shield, and gloves; checking of temperature; safe and regular disinfection or sanitization of hands, items, or place; social distancing; proper ventilation; and adequate training and equipping of the Electoral Board and other authorized officers and representatives of the COMELEC

To ensure effective and full participation, the COMELEC shall keep and update the record of Senior Citizens and PWDs who are qualified to vote, and conduct an intensive public information campaign, based on Ong’s proposal

HB 7868 also provides authority to the poll body to explore and develop an early voting system utilizing postal or mail-in voting. (CMC)

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