U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona placed under advisement yesterday the Commonwealth Election Commission’s and Gov. Eloy S. Inos’ motion to delay the tabulation and certification of votes cast for the Article 12 initiative and sequester the ballots pending the disposition of their appeal.
After hearing the arguments of the parties in the case, Manglona said she understands the need to issue a decision promptly.
The hearing was originally set for Wednesday, but the court reset it for yesterday.
Assistant attorney general Charles E. Brasington argued for CEC, chairperson Frances M. Sablan, executive director Robert A. Guerrero, and Inos.
Brasington called to the witness stand Guerrero, who explained how the ballots for the general election look like, how they are secured at the Department of Corrections, and how they will be tabulated.
Guerrero said the cost to re-encode the tabulation machines is only $300 to $400.
Brasington asked the court to allow everybody to vote on House Legislative Initiative 18-1 pursuant to Manglona’s previous order but postpone the tabulation of the votes until the appeal process has concluded.
Brasington asserted that there is a great deal of uncertainty as to what would happen if House Legislative Initiative 18-1 passes and then the order is overturned on appeal.
“We seek to avoid that uncertainty,” he said. “There is significant amount of irreparable harm that could occur in that situation,” he said.
House Initiative Legislative 18-1 is a proposed amendment to Article 12, which restricts the ownership of land in the CNMI to persons of Northern Marianas descent.
Manglona pointed out that she issued the decision in John H. Davis’ case in May, yet it took Brasington four months to return to the federal court and the 9th Circuit to submit the sequestration motion.
Brasington cited understaffing at the Office of the Attorney General and personal reasons as to why he only filed the motion recently. “I understand the court’s frustration as to the timing of the motion,” he said.
Brasington said that rather than seek a stay or stop the district court’s order, the injunction they requested merely seeks to postpone the counting of the ballots for the initiative.
Attorney Jeanne H. Rayphand, counsel for Davis, said voting includes tabulating the votes and announcing the results.
“They want to keep that secret until the appeal is finished. We don’t want any more denial of the right to vote,” Rayphand told reporters after the hearing.
At the hearing, Rayphand said the court should deny CEC’s and Inos’ motion because they are unlikely to succeed on the merits in their appeal and that, among other things, the Commonwealth will not suffer irreparable harm if an injunction is not issued.
“What we’re concerned about is the right to vote,” she said.
Davis, a registered voter in the NMI and a non-NMD, sued CEC and its officials in his desire to vote on any initiative to amend Article 12. Manglona ruled in favor of Davis.