Saipan voters do not seem interested in participating in any casino survey following the very low turnout in yesterday’s referendum conducted by students of the Northern Marianas College.
Based on the official count at each polling site, only 679 registered voters cast their ballots at the NMC campus, Pedro P. Tenorio Multi-Purpose Center, Legislative building, and Kagman Community Center yesterday. Early voters, meantime, totaled 162.
Saipan has a total of 12,527 registered voters based on Commonwealth Election Commission records. The numbers show that only 7 percent-a total of 841 voters-participated in the survey.
Czarina Jucutan, the class’ central committee chairperson, expressed disappointment with the turnout, saying they were hoping for a higher number.
Among Kagman’s over 2,000 registered voters, only 146 went to the polling station. At the legislative building, only 72 voters showed up out of the 600 registered voters.
Jucutan said the Multi-Purpose Center polling site yielded the highest voter turnout, with 241, while the NMC polling site had 220.
The class produced 8,000 ballots for the referendum, which aimed to gauge public opinion about allowing casinos on the island. The results, however, are nonbinding and will merely be used to guide lawmakers on future policy actions related to casinos.
NMC Current Issues class instructor Sam McPhetres told Saipan Tribune that he was “unfortunately not surprised” by the outcome, citing past experiences in actual elections where turnouts are low and unsatisfactory whenever the contest does not involve persons running for public office.
He said the low turnout may also be due to the “real arguments” between supporters and opponents of casinos on Saipan.
Some lawmakers have earlier criticized the referendum, saying that the effort only aims to please the desire of the Senate. The referendum was done at the request of Senate President Paul Manglona and Sen. Ralph Torres.
“Well, I can only say that the students were asked by the Senate president and one lawmaker to do it. We wanted to make sure that it is run exactly the same as the registered election and the Election Commission is extremely helpful in providing the students the rules, guidelines, and equipment to carry this out properly. What we are conducting is the same thing, the same process done in official election. They cannot fault us in terms of the conduct,” McPhetres told Saipan Tribune.
Many voters who took part in the survey expressed opposition to the establishment of casinos on island.
Donna Flores, a Garapan resident, said she voted no because she is not convinced that a casino is the answer to the declining state of the island.
“I voted no because I feel that there are other ways that we can revive the economy besides bringing in casinos and gambling. If we clean our backyards first, take care of ourselves, then we fix our island.it’s possible,” she said after casting her vote at the Multi-Purpose Center.
Rosa T. Palacios was also opposed to casinos, believing it will create more problems than help the community. She said she has witnessed many people becoming addicted to playing poker, forcing their relatives to give them money for their poker activity, and resulting in problems for their families.
“I am going to be really sad once they vote yes for this casino plan. Our community is very small and I believe, because of the pressure it will [have on] young people, crime rate will go up,” she said.
A Chalan Kiya resident, Tasia Bocago, was also vocal in her opposition to casinos. “I voted no because I don’t think it will help in the education of our children. We have enough poker problems and because of this casino, there will be families breaking up, children being neglected, and money being spent,” she said.
At the legislative building, site manager Grace Espinosa said that they encountered some minor problems such as confusion among voters on where to cast their votes. She said they rejected over 10 voters and referred them to their proper precincts.
As of 2:40pm yesterday, Espinosa’s group only had 54 voters out of the 600-plus registered voters in area.
Espinosa said the low turnout may be due to some voters perceiving the activity as “just a survey” and a “waste of their time and effort.”
Yesterday was also Citizenship Day, a holiday, but that did not help boost the community’s participation in the survey.
At the Multi-Purpose Center, more than 20 voters were turned away and referred to their proper precinct for voting. Site manager Lilia Lizama told Saipan Tribune that as of 3:05pm, only 183 of the 1,747 registered voters have cast their votes.
At Kagman Community Center, site manager Addy Manahane recorded only 138 voters as of 4:40pm-just a few minutes before the voting booths were to close at 5pm. Based on CEC record, Kagman has 2,336 registered voters.
According to McPhetres, the group did its part in educating the community about the casino referendum. He cited the regular and numerous media publicities in local newspapers, television, and radio, in addition to the flyers, posters, and information campaign they conducted before referendum day.
He said it’s just that “frustrating” that “a lot of people are not paying attention.” McPhetres revealed that many people also criticized them for not providing voters with the pros and cons of the casino issue, which he said is not part of their function and objective.
“They are the ones who need to decide the pros and cons on this issue. They have been spoon-fed for so long,” he told Saipan Tribune.