COMELEC urged to setup medical advisory board ahead of 2022 elections
QUEZON CITY – Poll workers and other election frontliners should be prioritized in the vaccination and booster shots in preparation for the May 2022 national and local elections, election coalition PARTICIPATE said.
Based on their observation of the mock polls held last 29 December, the PARTICIPATE coalition called on the national government and the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) to focus on "the need to include poll workers and other election front liners in obtaining their respective booster shots ahead of the elections. This will give them added protection as they serve on Election Day."
The Department of Education (DepEd) earlier reported that there are about 530,000 DepEd poll workers who will be serving as members of the electoral board, support staff, and technicians, among others. This does not yet include volunteers for Voter Assistance Desks and election watchdogs.
Moreover, the coalition also echoed their earlier call to COVID-proof the 2022 elections or ensure that it is safe, fair, and free.
To do this, PARTICIPATE urged COMELEC to regularly consult scientific and medical experts and establish a medical advisory board that will "ensure the voting guidelines and safety protocols in place are on par with the latest pertinent medical standards, available data, and best practices."
"It is also worth emphasizing that the science behind fighting COVID-19 is constantly evolving. Having its medical advisory board or the inclusion of experts in relevant fields will significantly aid COMELEC in developing timely and more appropriate procedures for the 9 May 2022 elections,” the coalition said.
Vet protocols for symptomatic voters
Last December 29, COMELEC held mock elections in Taguig City, Pateros, and Pasay City in Metro Manila, as well as in Isabela, Albay, Negros Oriental, Leyte, Maguindanao and Davao del Sur.
While the poll body was able to enforce most health and safety protocols, the coalition noted that “the protocols in handling symptomatic voters and the procedures to obtain their ballots and cast their votes were never tested during the mock elections.”
PARTICIPATE said the isolation polling places (IPP), which were designed to accommodate voters who exhibit symptoms on election day, were established but not used for simulation purposes during the mock elections.
In one school, it was observed that the support staff stationed in the IPPs were not wearing personal protective equipment and hand gloves as added protection while assisting voters.
"Designating personnel with medical training or knowledge for the IPP is a practice worth replicating. Support staff stationed in the IPP should be provided with additional personal protective equipment to cater to symptomatic voters," PARTICIPATE recommended.
“It is recommended that the guidelines for IPP voting should be vetted with health experts and medical practitioners,” the coalition said.
PARTICIPATE also recommended measures to further COVID-proof the 9 May elections. Among these are:
Providing additional personnel to ensure that health and safety protocols are consistently enforced and observed.
Proper orientation of the tables and barriers inside the polling precinct guarantees that said barriers would serve their intended purpose and lessen exposure between the voter and the Board of Elections Inspectors.
There should be regular sanitation of commonly used objects inside the polling place, such as tables, chairs, and marking pens.
The election coalition also mentioned the need to beef up the voter assistance desk (VAD) and that "those who will be assigned should be given the appropriate training and equipment."
"[O]n Election Day, the VAD may become a choke point if it is not managed correctly and supported since it is designed as a funnel to guide voters to their designated polling precinct. Voter information drive must also emphasize that the VAD is not mandatory, and voters may go straight to their assigned polling precinct," they explained.