BEFORE the end of May 10, winners in most of the local elections may be proclaimed, provided there are no serious technical hitches, a Commission on Elections (Comelec) official said yesterday.

Voters can help speed up the process by preparing and showing up early at their precincts.

“Let us be reminded that this is a very complicated election because this is the first automated election, with 50 million registered voters and a long list of candidates to elect,” said Comelec Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal in a visit to Cebu yesterday.

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“Every voter must take the opportunity to learn how to vote through automation,” he said.

In a separate interview, Provincial Election Supervisor Lionel Marco Castillano said voters can help prevent “the same old problems” like locating their precincts, by using an online precinct finder on the agency’s website (www.comelec.gov.ph).

Castillano also reiterated his advice for voters to bring lists of their choices when they go to the precincts.

Bringing a sample ballot inside the polling precincts is not prohibited, he said. What is banned is distributing these sample ballots on election day.

Both Castillano and Larrazabal assured that voters who are within a 30-meter radius of their precincts by 6 p.m. will still be allowed to vote.

Precincts will stay open longer this year, from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., but Comelec officials are prepared for longer lines, as voters may take some time getting used to the new, 25-inch ballots.

Just be sure to stay within hearing distance of your precinct.

“There’s a rule that if you are within 30 meters (at the end of voting hours), you can vote. The exception is that if your name is called twice publicly and you don’t go to the chairman (of the Board of Election Inspectors) to get your ballot, you can’t anymore. So, you have to be there,” Larrazabal said.

Comelec will also require the election inspectors to use a classroom next to the voting precinct as a holding area for voters still unable to vote as of 6 p.m.

Also yesterday, Larrazabal said a deceased candidate can be substituted even if the ballots were already printed. He made the clarification in a press conference.

Even if the name of the substitute candidate can no longer be in the ballot, he said, Comelec has ruled that the votes for a deceased candidate will be credited to the substitute.

In the 2007 election, mayoral candidate Rogelio Ilustrisimo of Sta. Fe, Cebu was shot dead outside the Comelec office at the Capitol compound. His daughter-in-law replaced him and won the election.

However, substitution was easier then because the names of the candidates were not printed on the ballots. This year, all the names of national and party-list candidates occupy the front page of the ballot; the local candidates’ names appear on the back. All the voter has to do is shade an oval beside the chosen candidate’s name. (EOB/With RHM)