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Low turnout sparks concern in ongoing overseas election

30 April 2019

Voters line up to exercise their right of suffrage.

By Vir B. Lumicao

With just two weeks to go before the month-long overseas voting for Filipinos in Hong Kong ends, the Consulate has appealed to more voters to go out and vote amid a low turnout.

More than 87,000 Filipinos are registered to vote for 12 senators and a party-list representative in the Philippine mid-term elections, but only about 19,000 have cast their ballots as of Apr 28.

Consul General Antonio Morales has urged more Filipinos to vote, and vote early. He expressed concern at the trend that suggested the total turnout could be just 24%, lower than the 28% recorded in the previous mid-term election in 2013.

“We ask you to help us in going out to ask our kababayans to vote early. Sana huwag na sa huling Linggo ng eleksiyon dahil mahirap ang pagboto kapag maraming tao,” he said.

He made his statement during a media briefing on Apr 27, a Saturday, when only about 700 people voted throughout the day. “Usually, kapag Saturday malaki ang bilang,” Morales, said as he appealed to everyone to urge their friends to vote.

The early days of the election were marred by vote-counting machine failures amid the rainy weather, which also appeared to discourage many voters from going to the Bayanihan Centre in Kennedy Town where the election is being held.

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But these were all resolved by replacing the malfunctioning VCMs, or resorting to home remedies like using blow-dryers to get the moisture out of the machines.

Complaints from voters were also unusually high, mostly from those deemed to have overvoted, or chosen more than the allowed maximum 12 senatorial candidates and 1 party-list.

Others complained of getting receipts showing they voted for another candidate, instead of the one that they chose. Still others ended up with a spoiled ballot, after making stray marks on the paper while choosing their candidates.


But these hiccups aside, the election in Hong Kong has been relatively smooth.

Hong Kong has been the focus of overseas voting during Philippine elections because it accounts for the highest registration and turnout rate per capita among all OFW destinations.

How the voting went:

Day 1, Apr 13 – Almost 1,000 Hong Kong-based Filipinos cast their ballot in what was described by Morales as an “uneventful” Day One. He said there were about five minor issues, such as one voter complaining the name of a party-list candidate already shaded when she opened her ballot. One voter was reported to have marked by mistake the bar code, invalidating her ballot. Another “overvoted”. A VCM jammed in precinct 9.

Day 2, Apr 14 – Failure of two VCMs marred what would have been a seamless day. Light showers interrupted the stream of voters to Bayanihan. Morales announced after 5pm that close to 2,500 voters cast their ballot on Sunday, more than double the previous day’s turnout, bringing the two-day total to 3,400. The wet weather was blamed for the VCMs rejecting ballots cast by 15 voters.

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Day 3, Apr 15 – The SBEIs began a ban on cellphones and cameras being used by voters when filling their ballots. This after some voters openly used phones while filling up ballots. No VCM malfunction. Election supervisors said only Congen Morales would conduct media briefings.

Day 4, Apr 16 – The number of voters was estimated to average around 30 in each of the nine precincts, just two hours before the polls closed. The automated VCMs “behaved” with just one malfunctioning, and was immediately replaced.

Day 5, Apr 17 – Voter numbers picked up as the weather improved. Consul Fatima Quintin expressed hope the turnout will continue to improve after a low result for the first two working days of the week. Most election inspectors said their VCMs had so far been “cooperative” with no malfunctions.

Day 7, Apr 19 – Heavy rain dampened Day 7 of the midterm elections. The Hong Kong Observatory issued an SAR-wide  thunderstorm and amber rain warning. None of the previously problematic VCMs malfunctioned. Congen Morales said about 320 voters cast their ballots, bringing the tally to close to 5,100, or 5.78% of the total after seven days.

Day 9, Apr 21 – More than 3,500 voters cast their ballots as good weather encouraged voters to flock to the overseas voting center at Bayanihan. Morales told a media briefing the number of voters brought the total for the past nine days to over 9,300, or 10.6% of the 87,441 registered overseas voters in Hong Kong. It was a seamless day for the VCMs, with no breakdowns or glitches reported, he said.

Day 11, Apr 23 – More than 320 voted, taking the total for the first 11days of overseas voting beyond 10,000. The day’s total was less than half the 750 votes on Apr 22, a public holiday. Election inspectors reported one case of over-voting by a male voter, who vehemently claimed he shaded exactly 12 tick boxes on his ballot. He filed a protest, which the Consulate forwarded to the Comelec.

Day 13, Apr 25 – Nearly 400 voters cast their ballots, taking the 13-day total votes past the 11,000-mark. Consul Bob said the cumulative number of votes in Hong Kong now made up nearly 13% of the 87,441 registered voters in the SAR. He also said he expects the voter turnout to reach 50%. But Quintin said that, personally, he would count it a bonus if the turnout exceeds the 28% in the 2013 midterm elections.

Day 14, Apr 26 – The daily turnout in the overseas voting for Hong Kong-base Filipinos fell to its lowest at just over 260, Consul Fatima Quintin said. She said the day’s voting was marred by one VCM failing to read a voter’s ballot and was replaced. Three over-votes were reported.
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