By Ferdinand Patinio

FINAL TEST. Personnel of the Commission on Elections prepare to conduct the final testing and sealing of voting machines for the Oct. 30 Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan Elections at the Pasong Tamo Elementary School in Quezon City on Oct. 25, 2023. The Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Wednesday (Feb. 28, 2024) said it plans to implement longer voting hours in next year’s midterm elections. (PNA file photo by Robert Oswald P. Alfiler)

MANILA – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Wednesday said it plans to implement longer voting hours in next year’s midterm elections.

In an interview, Comelec chairperson George Erwin Garcia said the 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. voting period aims to give more voters a chance to exercise their right to suffrage.

In the past elections, voting was held from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. only.

During the 2023 Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan Elections, the poll body has pilot tested early voting hours for persons with disability, senior citizens and heavily pregnant women in two cities in the country.

Members of the vulnerable sector in Naga City and Muntinlupa City were allowed to vote between 5 a.m. to 7 a.m.

At the same time, the poll body chief said voting in the next polls may take a longer time as a new technology –the Full Automation System with Transparency Audit/Count (FASTrAC)– would be used.

“The duration to cast votes will be longer because the machines are new. We need to properly explain the system to them. Some may not find it easy to vote, but we cannot drive them away,” he said.

The new technology would be provided by the South Korean joint venture firm Miru Systems, which bagged the PHP18 billion contract for the 2025 polls automation project.

Aside from a new automated election system, Garcia said the possibility of holding the plebiscite for the proposed Charter amendments may also lengthen the voting time.

Meanwhile, he said there will be more malls and public buildings that will be used as voting centers to replace public school classrooms.

“At the same time, sisiguruhin namin na hindi na sa mga elementary schools kundi sa malls na boboto mga kababayan sa buong bansa at ilang public buildings na pwede ma-deputize para hindi na magamit elementary schools na pagkaliliit (We will make sure that our voters would cast their votes in malls and some public buildings which can be deputized as voting centers so that we do not have to use public elementary schools that are too small),” he added. (PNA)