Attorney General Edward Buckingham gave yesterday Saipan casino legalization supporters led by Dr. Jack Angello an opportunity to withdraw their popular initiative petition that has only 497 signatures and submit a late-filed petition no later than 120 days before the Nov. 6 election. Angello said yesterday they're heeding the AG's advice.
“We are thankful for the attorney general for giving us the opportunity to withdraw the petition and late-file it, on or before July 7, so that we could continue to work on this very important petition drive,” Angello told Saipan Tribune last night.
Angello earlier said they submitted 501 signatures on Thursday. But Buckingham said yesterday the number is 497.
Buckingham said the 497 signatures that Angello's group submitted “falls well below” the constitutionally required number which is supposed to be 20 percent or 2,590 of the 12,948 registered voters on Saipan, the senatorial district affected by the petition.
The petitioners seek to legalize casino gaming on Saipan through popular initiative. The Office of the Attorney General has to certify that the number of signatures meet the requirements so that it can be placed on the Nov. 6 ballot for voter ratification.
In his letter to Angello, Buckingham clarified the certification process for initiatives under chapter 5-50 of title 5 of the Northern Mariana Islands Administrative Code, and to give him an opportunity to withdraw their petition.
The AG said the regulations contemplate two types of initiative petitions that propose a local law:
(1) timely petitions that are filed no later than 150 days prior to the election, and
(2) late-filed petitions that are submitted after the timely deadline and no later than 120 days before the election.
Buckingham said that timely petitions and late-filed petitions are distinct and governed by different regulations.
“Accordingly, you may not supplement a timely petition with a late-filed petition to meet the constitutional signature requirements. You may, however, submit a separate late-filed petition at least 120 days prior to the election for consideration in accordance with section 5-50-245,” the AG said.
As it stands now, Angello's group's petition would be considered timely as they submitted it on June 7, 2012-152 days before the upcoming election, Buckingham said.
Section 5-50-240 provides that, within 30 days of receiving a timely petition proposing a local law, the attorney general shall give the party who submitted the petition notice of how many valid signatures were submitted in support of the petition.
If a sufficient number of signatures were submitted as specified in the NMI Constitution, but the AG was unable to certify a sufficient number of signatures to meet the constitutional requirements, the party who submitted the petition shall have an additional 10 days to file additional signatures in support of the petition.
If an insufficient number of signatures were submitted, the party circulating the petition shall not receive any additional time to obtain signatures, the AG said.
Because there were only 497 signatures in the petition submitted instead of at least 2,590, under section 5-50-240, the petition would not be granted additional time to obtain signatures because an insufficient number of signatures was submitted.
“Rather than formally certifying that you have not met the constitutional requirements, as a courtesy, I am giving you an opportunity to withdraw your petition. You would then still be able to submit a late-filed petition no later than 120 days before the next election,” Buckingham told Angello.
Angello said they would be more aggressive in collecting signatures. He said having a Saipan casino industry will help grow the CNMI economy, help restore 80 hours and help prolong the Retirement Fund's lifespan.
“Again we are asking people to support and sign the petition to help the CNMI economy,” he added.