CEC still waiting for Senate to pass bill changing election laws
The 21,584 ballots that a Nebraska company printed for the Nov. 3 general elections are already in Guam and would be shipped to Saipan last night, Tuesday, according to Commonwealth Election Commission executive director Julita A. Villagomez.
CEC was expecting the ballots to be here last Monday, Sept. 14, as Sept. 19, Saturday, is the target date to commence the early voting for the Northern Islands.
Villagomez said they are waiting for the Senate to pass a bill that the House of Representatives approved last week. That bill will allow early voting for Saipan and the Northern Islands to begin 21 days before the Nov. 3 general elections. Villagomez said this means that early voting for Saipan and Northern Islands should commence on Oct. 13 and not the original target date of Sept. 19.
She said the bill also designates three polling places for early voting on Saipan.
Villagomez said they are not sure yet where those new polling places will be but they have identified the Pedro P. Tenorio Multi-Purpose Center in Susupe, Dandan Elementary School, Tanapag Elementary School, or the Legislature on Capital Hill as the polling places for early voting. “But we cannot do that yet until they passed the bill,” she said.
Villagomez said early voting usually starts a week before election day, but with the new bill it’s going to start 21 days before then. There will also be early voting on Tinian and Rota.
Villagomez said they are still checking if the Rota Northern Marianas College is available as a polling place for early voting. On Tinian, they are looking elsewhere as they heard that Tinian NMC “is broken.”
Villagomez also stated that they are already accepting requests for absentee voting for those who are going to be off-island during election day.
She said voters who want to avail of absentee voting will have to fill out a request form. “They can do it online, download, then they can email it to us, fax over to us, or hand-carry it to us,” she said.
CEC administrative officer Kayla Igitol told members of the House of Representatives during last week’s House session that they will try to send the absentee ballots by mid- to end of September.
The House passed a consultative version of the Senate bill that suspends certain CNMI election laws for the Nov. 3 general elections to mitigate public health risks due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The bill, which was introduced by Sen. Sixto K. Igisomar (R-Saipan), will adjust the early voting time and add more polling places. It will extend the hours of operations for early voting and election day.
The legislation will also authorize the CEC to collect absentee ballots seven days before the general election and 14 days after.
The bill will give the CEC flexibility to make changes to the election procedures if necessary to mitigate the public health risks due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
For Rota and Tinian, under the bill, the period of early voting by personal appearance begins on the seventh day preceding an election and extends through the last day before election day up to 5pm.