The Commonwealth Election Commission announced that early voting for the Northern Islands officially started last Saturday.
The commission, however, said it has yet to send an official election staffer to the island to date.
Pursuant to law, early voting is authorized in the Northern Islands 45 days prior to the election. In contrast, early voting on Saipan, Tinian, and Rota is 10 days before the actual polls.
As of yesterday, commission executive director Robert A. Guerrero disclosed that the agency is still waiting for a boat going to the Northern Island in an effort to save the agency from renting a charter flight or boat just to conduct the early voting.
Guerrero is optimistic that within the 45-day period, they can find a government sea vessel that will go to the islands. The commission is closely coordinating with the Northern Islands Mayor's Office and the Fish and Wildlife Division on this end.
Based on the agency's record, there are 130 registered voters in the Northern Islands which the agency would like to have served within the 45-day early voting period. Guerrero said that he was informed that there are an estimated over 70 voters now situated on the Northern Islands.
In using government boats, the agency can save from $7,000 to $10,000 in expenses which is the cost of renting a boat for a few days. In the previous elections, the commission incurred a significant amount of expenditures in conducting early voting for the Northern Islands, which used to have a 10-day grace period, like Saipan, Tinian, and Rota.
This law was amended, through the recommendation of the commission, to prevent incurring huge expenses for the activity.
Based on existing law, early voting for Saipan, Rota, and Tinian is set on Oct. 27-or 10 days before Nov. 6 elections.
Saipan Tribune learned that the $79,000 budget for this year's election will come from two fiscal years' appropriation for the commission-$28,395 from FY 2012 and $50,651 from FY 2013. The latter has been obligated to the ballot printing and postage stamps needed in sending absentee forms to off-island voters. The budget for FY 2013 has yet to be passed to date.
Guerrero also disclosed to Saipan Tribune yesterday that the commission last Sept. 19 started sending absentee ballots and that over 700 absentee ballots have already been sent to date.
The executive director said that there are 848 absentee requests received by the commission and it is expecting more to come until the deadline. Absentee voters have until Oct. 12 to send their requests to the commission. This is pursuant to election law, which authorizes 25 days to receive such requests before the election day. Absentee voters can download the request form from the agency's website.
There are an estimated 1,500 absentee voters recorded every election year in the Commonwealth.
Guerrero disclosed that public education for the legislative initiatives is also expected to commence in October following his meeting with Northern Marianas College, which is partnering with the agency on public education.
These initiatives included House Legislative Initiative 17-2 which will make the attorney general an elected position; Senate Legislative Initiative 17-12, which seeks to amend the Northern Marianas College's Board of Regents and revise NMC's mission statement; and House Legislative Initiative 17-5, which will allow the government to float a bond.