Newly-sworn in Rep. Franklin R. Babauta (Ind-Saipan) has introduced a bill that will shorten the closing of the period to register to vote and voting residency duration to 30 days.
Babauta, who is an independent representative from precinct 1 but aligned with the Democratic Party, pre-filed House Bill 21-129, with seven others as co-authors.
The bill also proposes to amend the definitions of “domicile” and “residency” in the current election law so that it is clear that only bona fide CNMI residents are eligible to vote absentee. The bill will also align the days allowed to change election precinct so it is consistent with the closing of the voter registration and the residency duration requirement.
Babauta stated in the bill that the current election law provides, among others, that “no person shall be eligible to vote who has not resided in the Commonwealth at least 120 days prior to the election day.” Babauta said this provision—as established by Public Law 12-18 that was signed on Sept. 14, 2000—was less than two months before the November 2000 election. In signing Public Law 12-18, then-governor Pedro P. Tenorio cautioned the Legislature that extending the residency requirement from 45 days to 120 days is “vulnerable to challenge on constitutional grounds,” Babauta said.
In the CNMI, the lawmaker said, the residency duration requirement is 120 days before the election and the voter registration closes 60 days before an election. He said the 120 days residency requirement is too long, unjustified, and vulnerable to challenge on constitutional grounds. He pointed out that the difference between the residency duration and the closing of voter registration is also problematic.
“It means that if you move to the Commonwealth 59 days before an election, with the intention of making the Commonwealth one’s permanent home and vote in the next election, one is prevented from voting because one (a) did not meet the 120 residency requirement, and (b) missed the voting registration window,” said Babauta in the bill.
He said the definitions of “domicile” and “residency” are also problematic. Babauta said that current Commonwealth law requires absentee voters to give a reason to vote outside the election district from where the voter is registered. However, he said, an absentee voter from outside the Commonwealth is allowed to vote absentee without any reason or excuse for not being in the Commonwealth to vote on election day, regardless whether the person owns a home, works, and pays personal income or property taxes outside the Commonwealth.
Babauta said the purpose of his bill is to shorten the residency duration from 120 days to 30 days. He said it will shorten the closing of voter registration from not less than 60 days before the election day to not less than 30 days.
Babauta said the bill will amend the definitions of “domicile” and “residency” so that it is clear that only bona fide CNMI residents are eligible to vote.
The bill’s co-authors are House Speaker Blas Jonathan Tenorio Attao (R-Saipan), and Reps. Sheila J. Babauta (D-Saipan), Richard T. Lizama (D-Saipan), Donald M. Manglona (D-Rota), Christina Sablan (D-Saipan), John Paul P. Sablan (R-Saipan), and Ralph N. Yumul (R-Saipan).