On Being a First-Time Voter

from NAMFREL Election Monitor Vol.3, No.2
by Mai Arcano, BA Political Economy, University of Asia and the Pacific (UA&P)
NAMFREL Volunteer
A few days before the event, I made sure that my registration is valid and that I am eligible to vote for this year’s elections. I also made other preparations such as searching for my precinct number, listening to senatorial debates, researching on candidate profiles, and a speck about knowing the voting procedure.

On the day of the elections, I woke up around 6:30am to ensure that I would be one of the first people in line. I brought my driver’s license as my valid ID, a hand fan, tissue, and my phone to keep me entertained just in case the procedure starts to eat up my patience. In addition, I also wore clothes that were loose and comfortable.

As I was approaching the voting precinct, there was a group of people who were holding some pieces of paper, eagerly giving them away to the people who passed by as if they were distributors of condominium flyers that we often see in malls. As conspicuous as it is, it saddened and angered me greatly to see this. For one, this only proves how some political candidates would go overboard just to gather votes. I would not call this “determination” or “enthusiasm”; rather, I would refer to it as being greedy and incompetent. It also gave me a reason not to vote for these people, seeing how recalcitrant they are as citizens. Another thing that brought me dismay is the sight of how people could so easily trade their votes in exchange for financial supplication and/or empty promises. Contemplating about it, however, I understand that they are not to be entirely blamed for their actions given their situation. Nevertheless, I would say that they are still accountable to themselves and to authorities as well.

When I reached the polling precinct, the people were just all over the place. There was a small tent in front of the precinct entrance where people apparently searched for their precinct number. I almost joined the line thinking that it could be the first step for voting. Thankfully, I saved some time by asking the person in front of me regarding the purpose of the line. If only there was a sign or a guide to assist me and the other voters.

Inside the precinct, I saw several lines and lists of names. I barely knew where to look for my name and where exactly to line up. It was nice of the people in line to ask me what my precinct number is and to direct me to my line. Again, if only there were signs or assigned volunteers who could have guided me. 
After a few minutes of standing and sweating in line, along with a few attempts of co-voters to convince me to vote for their supported candidates, I finally got a hold of my ballot. I was suddenly disappointed for another minute, seeing how the voters were seated in a round table composed of about four to six members with their unsecured ballots. Some might consider it an insignificant concern, but I do believe in the secrecy of the ballot. Even until I inserted the ballot in the PCOS machine, I used the folder provided to ensure that people could not see my votes. My ballot was rejected by the machine in my first attempt but it later accepted and counted my vote when I changed the side that I inserted.

Basically, the whole procedure took me about thirty minutes. Personally, I would say that it was not that traumatizing for a first-time voter but further improvements could definitely be made in order to make the process more efficient.
Mai (second from left) with other NAMFREL volunteers at the 2013 national operations center 
Thereafter casting my vote, I headed to the NAMFREL headquarters to “guard my vote”. I have never been this involved in the elections and it surely is an unforgettable first-time experience that I would always be eager to share with other people.

Overall, I would still encourage the youth to register and vote no matter how much inconvenience this may cause them. Although as cliché as it may sound, I still believe that “every vote counts” and that it is important to “make your vote count”. To the elected officials and the potential candidates, I speak on behalf of the youth with the hope that you would give importance to the sanctity and security of the elections. In the recent SONA of the President, he mentioned that the May 2013 elections have been “peaceful and orderly” particularly in Mindanao. However, my experience of tabulating incident reports at NAMFREL would say otherwise. It is apparent to us that the Philippines and the system in this country is a work in progress, but we do hope that these concerns regarding the elections would really be given attention to.