Amid concerns that some political campaigns may have been asking voters to take photos of their ballots in the Nov. 6 mid-term elections as proof of support or in exchange for benefits, private citizen Glen Hunter formally asked yesterday the Commonwealth Election Commission to issue emergency regulations banning cell phones, cameras, and other recording devices in polling booths “to protect the secrecy of the vote.” This early, the proposal is drawing varied response.
Lawmakers and other community members separately expressed their opinion on Hunter's proposal, many of them supporting his request to the election body.
Another private citizen, Donna Cruz, also told the election body to add her voice to Hunter's proposal “to effectuate security and secrecy in the ballot booths come election time.”
Hunter, a community advocate for transparency and accountability in government and one of the organizers of last Sunday's anti-corruption rally, specifically asked the commission to implement the proposed rule prior to the Nov. 6 midterm elections.
“This additional regulation will not harm any member of the public and will not result in increased costs to the taxpayers. Enforcement can be achieved by utilizing the already assigned poll worker and the additional notice can be added to notices already planned for polling stations that prohibit things such as campaigning and other off-limits,” Hunter said in his letter to election commission executive director Robert Guerrero.
Guerrero, in turn, forwarded Hunter's letter to the chairperson of the commission “for their action and disposition” as 1 CMC 6105(e) dictates the duty of promulgating regulation to the commission.
Some lawmakers, including House minority leader Joe Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan), Rep. Ray Tebuteb (Ind-Saipan), Rep. Edmund Villagomez (Cov-Saipan), Rep. Frank Dela Cruz (Ind-Saipan), Rep. Janet Maratita (Ind-Saipan), Rep. Trenton Conner (R-Tinian), and Rep. Ralph Demapan (Cov-Saipan), support Hunter's request.
Dela Cruz said that if these allegations are true about taking a photo of one's filled out ballot to confirm their vote with others, then it's “pathetic.” He said he wouldn't be surprised, though, as the party alleged to have been committing this will resort to anything that will be self-serving.
“Glen Hunter's request should be heeded by the CEC,” Dela Cruz told Saipan Tribune.
Deleon Guerrero said he supports “any effort to prevent voter intimidation or influencing inside the voting booth.”
Villagomez, for his part, said he only hopes that the election body would have enough manpower or poll workers to enforce the proposed rule if approved “and have it all spelled out in terms of how it's going to be carried out.”
Covenant Party campaign manager Oscar M. Babauta said he also supports Hunter's request, adding that “privacy should be adhered to.”
House floor leader George Camacho (Ind-Saipan), for his part, said he “leaves the decision up to the election commission to run a clean and peaceful election.”
“If they feel that cell phones and cameras would hamper the election process in any way, then we shall follow that policy,” Camacho said.
Rep. Stanley Torres (Ind-Saipan) said voters should be allowed to carry cell phones in the voting booths and it would be up to each voter to decide what to do when they are inside the voting booth to cast their vote, including taking photo of their ballot using their cell phone “because it is their own ballot.”
He said he does not support Hunter's request.
“It is nonsense. People are getting paranoid,” Torres added.
Hunter's request to the commission was prompted by community members' reports that they have been “requested to take photos of their ballots within the polls in order to confirm their vote to others.”
“The request to take a photo of one's ballot violates every voter's constitutional right to secrecy in voting (CNMI Constitution, Article VIII Section 3),” Hunter said. “I hope that CEC will do the right thing and implement this requested regulation as soon as possible.”
Sources other than Hunter said the allegations point to the Republican Party, headed by Gov. Benigno R. Fitial, as behind the idea of taking photos of one’s ballot. The sources requested anonymity for fear of retaliation.
The GOP is denying making such suggestions or requests to voters, saying, “It is becoming clear that the governor’s detractors are running out of false accusations to throw out there.” It also said it does not meddle in the decisions of the election commission.