The Senate unanimously passed last week a bill that would amend the election law to allow members of the Commonwealth Election Commission to conduct official business online as a means to get around COVID-19 restrictions.
Senate clerk Dolores S. Bermudes transmitted Senate Bill 21-67, SDI to House Speaker Blas Jonathan Attao (R-Saipan) last Monday for action.
With the general elections fast approaching, CEC has been unable to conduct an official meeting in a safe and cost-effective setting. Igisomar’s bill aims to resolve this by allowing the election commissioners to appear, attend, participate, and vote in an official meeting using a telephone, video, or other electronic means—provided that the commissioner is physically present in the CNMI.
The Senate also unanimously passed last week Senate Bill 21-68, SD2 that will suspend certain CNMI election laws for the Nov. 3 general elections to mitigate the public health risks due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The bill will extend the early voting time to 21 days and add more polling places. It will also extend the hours of operations for early voting and election day. The legislation will also authorize CEC to collect absentee ballots seven days before the general election.
The bill will give the CEC the flexibility to make changes to the election procedures if necessary to mitigate the public health risks due to the pandemic.
Igisomar said in an interview Wednesday that he came up with the legislations after talking with CEC about the Office of the Public Auditor’s report that cited some CEC shortcomings.
“We started our communication about two to three months ago, with [Commonwealth] Election Commission and worked with them…,” said Igisomar who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary, Government, Law and Federal Relations.
As a result of that communication, he asked CEC if there is anything they would like him to assist them while he’s researching on how they can improve the election process because of this pandemic.
With respect to Senate Bill 21-67, the senator said because of difficulties for CEC board members from Rota and Tinian to travel to Saipan due to of the COVID-19 situation, CEC asked to have the law amended to authorize board members to participate and vote during online meetings.
“I said, that’s very easy. It’s very simple. Don’t worry about it. So that’s why I took care of it,” he said.
Igisomar said they expedited the bill filing and they asked CEC for their comments and feedbacks. “So that’s why we went and passed it because they concurred. It [now] goes to the House. We hope the House will pass it as it is,” he said.
The senator said the bill is important so that CEC cannot delay the election because there will be decisions that need to be made.
Regarding Senate Bill 21-68, Igisomar said authorizes the CEC to hold the election following the best practices during a pandemic. He said they identified some of those best practices, such as giving people the opportunity to avail of curbside voting and extending early election for 21 days.
Igisomar said they are giving CEC the opportunity to promulgate proper guidance on how this curbside voting will be implemented.
He said the bill proposes that during early election, there should be three sites and not just one so to spread the people out, so that they don’t get too congested in one area. He said that was a CEC recommendation.
He said the bill allows CEC to work with the COVID-19 Task Force to make sure that they are able to hold this election while abiding with the task force’s guidelines on social distancing.
Igisomar said he has already met with Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and told him about what’s happening with the two bills.