Citing alleged irregularities in the conduct of the Nov. 13 general election and in the counting and tabulation of ballots, the Democratic Party of the Northern Marianas wrote the Commonwealth Election Commission yesterday, wanting to inspect all used, defaced, and unused ballots, documents, records, video recordings, and many other election-related items.
Democratic Party CEO Stephen C. Woodruff told Saipan Tribune that Tony Mareham, the party’s chairman of the election committee, signed the letter that was addressed to CEC executive director Julita A. Villagomez.
The letter has a sender’s signature, but has no name aside from indicating the Democratic Party at the bottom of the signature. Woodruff provided Saipan Tribune a copy of the letter.
In the letter, Mareham said that, without a good explanation, several “significant irregularities” may call into question the validity of the election results.
Woodruff said the Democratic Party went to the CEC office yesterday afternoon to obtain answers and access the documents, but Villagomez did not provide them any.
Woodruff said that, according to Villagomez, they were just moving things from the Pedro P. Tenorio Multi-Purpose Center, where the counting was held, and that CEC office also has no power.
Woodruff said they will be going back to CEC this morning, Tuesday.
As of press time, Saipan Tribune was still trying to contact Villagomez for comment.
In the letter, Mareham said it appears that errors may have been made of such a magnitude so as to affect the integrity of the election results.
“In order to properly evaluate these concerns, we need immediate answers to some questions and immediate access to certain documents and records,” Mareham said.
He cited that CNMI laws and regulations require the ballots to always be attended and be in the presence of at least two commissioners and observers.
Further, he said, the ballot boxes must only be received by the CEC executive director or his/her designee and must be “unsealed and opened in such a fashion to protect the integrity and sanctity of the election process.”
Mareham said some observers report that ballot boxes were removed from public view at the counting center, placed behind a curtain or in a back room, and opened with an unknown number of commissioners and observers present.
Mareham asked Villagomez to explain why this was done and how the CEC complied with relevant election laws and regulations.
He requested Villagomez to provide a detailed step-by-step timetable of actions taken and pertinent events from the close of the polls until 5pm on Friday, Nov. 16.
Second, Mareham said, CEC regulations require that ballots cast in each election district remain separate from ballots cast in other districts.
He said information from observers indicates that early votes were sorted and combined with ballots from the seven election districts prior to tabulation and contrary to longstanding CEC practice.
“Moreover, some observers report that all ballots from all districts may have been intermingled prior to tabulation. If so, what is the justification for this change in practice?” Mareham asked.
Third, Mareham said, results in this year’s election were significantly delayed when compared to past elections.
He said CNMI election law requires that unofficial results at the precinct and sub-precinct level be published as soon as practicable after tabulation.
“Why were no tabulation results whatsoever announced until more than 10 hours after the polls closed?” Mareham asked.
Moreover, Mareham said, it was not until Friday morning, Nov. 16, more than two days and 15 hours (63 hours) after the polls closed, before final tabulation results inclusive of absentee ballots appeared on CEC’s website and then appeared as certified, rather than unofficial results.
Mareham asked Villagomez as to when the tabulating machines were last calibrated and tested.
He asked Villagomez to identify the person or person responsible for operation of the tabulation machines and any technical issues.
Contrary to established past CEC practices as required by statute, why were tabulation results not reported on a sub-precinct level, Mareham asked.
Mareham said election results were also published showing inconsistent figures.
“Exactly how was it possible that the CEC website showed numbers of absentee votes double the actual number?” he said.
Mareham said they want to begin with inspection of the Northern Islands and Precinct 5 ballots, followed by review of the ballot procurement and chain of custody records and records of registered voters who cast ballots.