THE Commission on Elections (Comelec), via a 4-3 vote, has scrapped the holding of elections in malls because of legal problems that may later put the poll body in a bind.
“It will no longer push through,” Chairman Juan Andres Bautista said on Wednesday. “It’s a pity, it’s disturbing. I apologize to our voters.”
The commission arrived at the decision after a marathon en banc session on Tuesday. It reversed its earlier 6-1 ruling in favor of mall voting.
The legal issues on mall voting were raised by former Comelec Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal in a letter to Bautista,
Larrazabal pointed out that the Comelec failed to comply with the three basic requirements set by the Omnibus Election Code (OEC) before some clustered precincts can be legally transferred to shopping malls
These requirements are the issuance of notices to all parties and voters affected, a Comelec resolution enumerating the specific clustered precincts that will be moved and the resolution has to be issued 45 days before Election Day.
“It has to be in conformity with the law. It is illegal if you transfer polling places or clustered precincts without complying with the requirements of the law,” Larrazabal said, adding that non-compliance would cause massive disenfranchisement as a result of all votes cast in the transferred precincts being declared null and void.
Bautista said the issues raised by Larrazabal have been fully complied with, adding that as early as March 10 or 60 days before the May 9 elections, the commission en banc came out with a resolution allowing mall voting after a series of public consultations with various election stakeholders.
According to him, the commission has also given him the authority to enter into agreement with various malls but said the actual transfer of precincts to various malls could only happen on May 9.
“I can’t understand that kind of interpretation [by Larrazabal]. We consulted… our senior staff in the Comelec and all of them agreed that the right interpretation should be that the transfer [would happen]only on the day of the elections,” Bautista said.
Larrazabal, however, said while Bautista has the authority to perform certain acts for the commission as its chief executive officer, the authority to transfer polling places is not one of them as the law specifically requires that it be done only by the commission.
Bautista said they will push mall voting again in the 2019 mid-term elections.