The Commonwealth Election Commission disqualified yesterday the lone candidate of the CNMI Democratic Party, Jesse David Jones Torres, after investigation showed that he is not a registered voter in the Commonwealth but Guam.
In an emergency meeting yesterday, acting attorney general Viola Alepuyo disclosed that Torres lost his residency in the CNMI since Oct. 22, 2010, when he registered to vote in Precinct 14A in Guam. And since he has lost his residency, Torres is no longer eligible to vote in the CNMI unless he once again meets the qualifications to register to vote on island.
The commission board unanimously voted on three motions yesterday: 1.) Disqualification of Torres as an eligible voter in the CNMI; 2.) his disqualification as a candidate for the Nov. 6 elections; and 3) instruction to the commission to strike out Torres' name in the election ballots.
Alepuyo, citing provisions of the election law, said that no person shall be eligible to vote who has not resided in the Commonwealth at least 120 days prior to the election date.
The law also restricts residents of the CNMI from serving as House representative if they have resided in the jurisdiction for less than three years.
Torres, to meet this three-year residency requirement for a candidate, has to wait until January 2013.
Based on documents presented to the commission, Alepuyo diclosed that Torres failed to vote in the 2003 general election. On Sept. 9, 1999, Torres changed his residency from Chalan Kanoa District 3, Precinct 2 to Kagman, former Precinct 1D and now Precinct 5. On March 31, 2004, Torres re-registered to vote in Precinct 2 and transferred again to Precinct 1D (now Precinct 5) on Sept. 15, 2005.
On Oct. 22, 2010, Torres registered to vote in Precinct 14A in Guam as a resident of the Maite Mongmong area.
Commission executive director Robert A. Guerrero disclosed to Saipan Tribune yesterday that his office received information from an anonymous caller around 3pm and 4pm on Oct. 22, asking him to look into Torres' residency status.
Guerrero immediately made inquiries and referred the matter to the Office of the Attorney General. On Tuesday morning, the Guam Election Commission confirmed that Torres is still a registered voter in Guam.
When asked why the commission didn't catch the problem earlier, or as soon as Torres filed his candidacy, Guerrero said there's nothing in the law that mandates the commission to check a candidate's registration in other jurisdiction. Once they receive such information, however, the commission looks into the issue, he added.
“We don't go out on a witch hunt, unless we were given a reason to,” he told Saipan Tribune, adding that investigation was conducted by the OAG, which endorsed the decision to the commission board.
7-day due process
During yesterday's meeting, board chair Frances Sablan said that Torres has seven days starting yesterday to appeal the decision.
If Torres decides to appeal, it should be filed in court, which will make the determination in the case, she added. In case no appeal is made, Torres' name will then be stricken out from the ballots.
Torres was represented yesterday at the meeting by his wife, Joan T. Deleon Guerrero, who officially received the formal board notice. She told Saipan Tribune that her husband has yet to decide what his next action will be
Torres is one of the six individuals running as representative for Precinct 5. Because only two will be chosen as winners, “if this case becomes an issue of election contest, the commission-in a worst case scenario-may re-do the election only on Precinct 5,” according to Guerrero.
Prior to filing their candidacies, candidates swear under penalty of perjury that they meet all the requirements of Public Law 12-18. Torres was among those who signed this document.
When asked about the possibility of prosecuting Torres if it is proven that he violated the law, Guerrero said this has not been discussed yet by the commission board. But he said any decision to prosecute lies with the OAG, not the commission board.
“That's something.we haven't gone that far yet. Our concern now is to get the election over with. But for any decision whether to prosecute depends on the AG.”
During yesterday's deliberation, Alepuyo pointed out that “ignorance of the law is not an excuse.”