Election anxiety among first-time Los Baños voters

by Jaren Grace R. Duazo

To many Filipino citizens, the week before the 2022 elections passed by as a blur of campaign materials, survey results, sleepless nights and restless minds. The first-time voters of Los Baños (LB), Laguna share that they felt no different as they faced election anxiety which was rooted in campaigning, voting processes, COVID-19 and most especially, the election results.

According to Psychologist AJ Sunglao, election anxiety is described as a “circumstantial or situational” form of anxiety during the election season. Sunglao says those who experience it may often feel uneasy, drained, have troubles concentrating and may even experience physical symptoms.

The results of the 2022 elections will determine the courses of Filipino lives, not only for six years but even after that. Given the gravity of this year’s elections, ten first time voters of LB shared their stories on election anxiety throughout the election season and how they dealt with it.

Election Results as a General Concern

All ten first-time voters in LB that were interviewed considered the election results as their greatest worry before, during, and after the election processes.

A week before the elections, surveys had shown that despite his no-shows for important interviews and debates, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. was still ahead of his main rival, Vice President Leni Robredo. This left first time voters with an unsettling feeling of not having enough time to change the results.

“During the whole process, nararamdaman ko na ‘yung anxiety for different reasons… pero after ko bumoto mismo, sobrang lumalala ‘yung anxiety ko kasi it will really define our future… Bigla akong napa-overthink sa kung anong posible mangyari kung manalo ‘yung candidate na walang maayos na plano para sa bansa… Kahit na iba ‘yung dati at ngayon, hindi imposible na maging pareho ‘yung sitwasyon,” says Virstania San Juan, a UPLB student and a first-time voter from LB.

(“During the whole process, I already felt anxiety for different reasons… but it was only after I finished voting that the anxiety got worse because it (the results) will really define our future… I suddenly started overthinking about what could possibly happen if the candidate without proper plans for the country wins… Even if the past and the present are different, it isn’t impossible for the situation to turn out the same.”)

The partial results calculated on May 9 had revealed that Marcos was way ahead of Robredo, just like the surveys have shown. First time voters were also concerned about the leading names in the senatorial race.

A UPLB student and first-time voter in LB, Kurt Melendrez, stated how he was disappointed to see the leading names in the senatorial polls during partial results. “Knowing na may mas qualified sa mga tao na ‘yon… since ‘yung iba doon ay walang background when it comes sa posisyon na tinatakbuhan nila. talagang nakakabahala papaano nila pupunan ung trabaho nila.”

(“Knowing that there are candidates who are more qualified than those people (leading candidates)… since some of them do not have a background when it comes to the position that they are running for, it was really worrisome how they would fulfill their jobs.)

While the votes were being counted, most first time voters had hoped that tables would turn and their chosen candidate would take the lead and still win the presidential race.

Campaigning and Red-Tagging

Most first-time voters, desperate for the country’s democracy to not be taken away once again, volunteered to take part in campaigning and initiating conversations about candidates and their backgrounds. Battling disinformation and debunking myths about the Marcoses were their main priorities.

In the process of campaigning, there remains the tendencies of the public and family members to red-tag first-time voters who were vocal. Five out of ten of the first-time voters who were interviewed cited this possibility as a cause of their election anxiety.

UPLB Student and first-time voter, Anya Mercado shared that from class discussions, some students have told their stories on how contrasting views on elections have caused some friendships and family bonds to break. It even came to the extent that parents were willing to pull their children out of UPLB. “I’m really worried about the youth na vocal sa pinaglalaban nila.”

(“I’m really worried about the youth who are vocal in what they are fighting for.”)

Likewise, a med-tech student from UPHSL who preferred not to be named, expresses her concern for her two friends.  She claimed that both of them were included in the student governments of their schools and were red-tagged by school faculty for voicing out their stands in class discussions and in private group chats.  “Hindi ko na-realize how serious it was until may mga tao na kilala ko na ‘yung na red-tag. It’s a very huge accusation, kahit sabihin na hindi naman ako nakikiparticipate sa rally and all parang at risk pa rin.”

(“I didn’t realize how serious it was until it was people that I know who were being red-tagged. It’s a very huge accusation, even if I say that I don’t participate in rallies and all, it’s like I’ll still be at risk.”)

Most LB first-time voters were anxious about speaking up. Even if you see your stand as right, people would still have something to say about it, especially when they had opposing views.

Voting Processes

Eight first-time voters of LB had pointed out that they were nervous on voting processes, the breaking down of vote counting machines (VCMs) and the security of their votes.

“I really wanted to make sure na ma-c-count ung vote ko. Basically, kinabahan ako sa pag-shade ng circles sa balota kasi parang isang wrong move masasayang ‘yung vote,” says Virstania, noting that voting processes was also her concern.

(“I really want to make sure that my vote would be counted. Basically, I was nervous about shading the circles on the ballot because I felt like if I make one wrong move, my vote would go to waste.”)

Articles from LB Times have reported the breaking down of VCMs from precincts in LB, like in San Antonio.

“Nakakakaba kasi nine hours kami nag-intay, nasiraan kasi kami ng VCM tapos ‘yung poll watchers doon, tinatawagan Comelec pero ‘di sila mareach… they gave us two options; either mag-vote kami na walang receipt or anything or mag-w-wait kami.” Michelle Baluncio, UPLB student and first-time voter, expounds when asked about what her voting experience was like.

(“It was nerve-wracking because we were waiting for nine hours since our VCM broke down. Then the poll watchers (at the precinct), tried calling the Comelec but they couldn’t be reached… They gave us two options; either we vote but won’t receive any receipt or we wait (for the VCM to function again).”)

In terms of the security of their receipts, Anya says, “As a first time-voter, I didn’t feel safe dun sa lalagyan ng receipts. It’s just a regular box with little to no security at all.”

(“As a first-time voter, I didn’t feel safe with the container of the receipts. It’s just a regular box with little to no security at all.”)

The COVID-19 Pandemic

With 63.9% Filipinos fully vaccinated (as of June 13, 2022), COVID-19 did not come across as a major concern for first-time voters of LB. Only three of those who were interviewed expressed their worries on the virus.

UPLB student and first-time voter, Cyril Villaruel, says “Natatakot ako kasi baka madaming tao … siguro induced na din ng matagal na ‘di pag labas.”

(“I was scared because maybe it would be crowded… maybe (this fear was) induced by not going out in a long time.”)

Virstania adds on this, saying that even when there was rarely any news about COVID-19 because of the elections, there are still cases to be wary of.

Most precincts in LB were crowded during elections. Reports have revealed that some voters did not comply to health protocols (such as social distancing and temperature checking) anymore as the line was getting too long.

Dealing with Election Anxiety

In line with the Philippine Mental Health Association’s suggestions, first-time voters of LB shared that staying connected to friends and family who share the same sentiments was their general coping mechanism in dealing with election anxiety – especially in terms of campaigning and the results.

Another common way to deal with their concerns was praying and keeping their faith that things will work out.

When it comes to voting processes, some first-time voters had prepared by familiarizing their selves with the do’s and don’ts during election day as well as making a list to help remember who they were voting for.

Students of UPLB had also expressed gratitude to their professors for being comforting after the release of partial results. They claimed that their professors had checked on them if they were red-tagged, assured them that it was okay to feel negative emotions and also adjusted deadlines in order to consider the states of the students.

Some students have decided to lessen their social media consumption. They went as far as having a social media detox, claiming that it was draining to see debates on such platforms.

While the results of the elections are now final, first-time voters of LB try to fall back into the routine they had before elections. As unsettling as it was to them, most of them are still students with responsibilities they had to fulfill – but they continue to hold on to hope despite the results.

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