Biometric passport data may facilitate remote voters’ registration in Philippines

The proposal is subject to the DFA’s approval
Biometric passport data may facilitate remote voters’ registration in Philippines

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) in the Philippines is considering using biometrics to adopt a “no personal appearance” policy for voter registrants with passports.

Following the comments of Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon, Filipino citizens abroad and in the country would potentially be able to register online following the enactment of the new regulations.

“Comelec is studying a project that I proposed: no personal appearance for voter registrants with passports online; if partnership with [the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA)] is possible,” Guanzon said on Twitter.

According to the new proposal, citizens’ verification of identity would be done using biometric data from DFA.

The procedure would be somewhat similar to India’s plans of using Aadhaar biometrics such as fingerprints and iris scans to confirm voters’ identity. The main difference would lay in the way such data would be gathered, as Comelec would take it from DFA while users in India would be giving it to the Election Commission (EC) directly via a dedicated app.

“This online method of registration needs no personal appearance and will encourage Filipinos all over the world and within the country who have passports to register,” Guanzon explained.

It is not the first time Comelec has eyed biometrics in relation to election measures. In 2019, the Commission used Gemalto biometric technology to verify voters in national and local Elections.

The news comes amidst preparations for the upcoming May 2022 national and local elections, for which voter registrations will run until September 30, 2021.

Voter registration had been momentarily halted due to COVID-19 concerns but is now resuming nationwide except for areas under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) or modified ECQ.

“This is not only timely, it is necessary,” Guanzon said, referring to the effectiveness of the new system at a time when the pandemic’s potential impact on voters’ turnout is ever-present.

“To achieve a high turnout of voter registrants and thereby ensure voters ‘access to elections, especially PWDS, the elderly, pregnant women,” she added.

The Commissioner clarified the proposal is currently supported by the entirety of the Commission members, but is subject to the DFA decision to share citizen’s biometric data.

No new law would be required, she concluded, as means and methods of elections are the sole discretion of the Comelec according to Supreme Court rulings.

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