New bill sets 14-day cutoff for absentee ballots


Under a bill that the House of Representatives passed last week that suspends certain election laws for the Nov. 3 general elections, absentee ballots are allowed to be received and counted 14 days after election day as long as they are postmarked on or before the date of the election.

Rep. Tina Sablan (D-Saipan) said yesterday that this extension is in anticipation of delays in mail service in connection with COVID-19 and other challenges affecting the U.S. Postal Service.

“The extension has been done before, in the 2016 election, when there were problems in the printing of absentee ballots and concerns that mail delivery would be delayed as a result,” Sablan said.

Other changes that they made in Senate Bill 21-68, SD2 HS1, is to authorize the Commonwealth Election Commission to begin collecting and processing absentee ballots seven days before election day, though the ballots will not actually be counted until election day.

Sablan said the processing of absentee ballots is time-consuming and a major source of delay in determining election results.

Also, Sablan said, instead of requiring five commissioners to be physically present to review and validate absentee ballots as is currently provided in the law, the legislation allows CEC to designate two people to collect and process absentee ballots in the presence of Office of the Public Auditor observers.

Provisions in this legislation will automatically expire after the November 2020 elections.

Under the bill, CEC’s Sept. 19 target date to srtart early voting for Northern Islands will not push.

During discussions of the bill, Sablan said one of the changes that they’re proposing in the bill is to allow early voting on Saipan and the Northern Islands to begin 21 days before the Nov. 3 election.

Sablan clarified the early voting schedule after Rep. Joseph Lee Pan Guerrero (R-Saipan) asked if CEC’s “candidate’s calendar” will be amended because it’s confusing as it states that early voting for Northern Islands will start on Sept. 19.

Sablan said the feedback that they got was that the senators were fine with the proposed amendments.

The bill, which was introduced by Sen. Sixto Igisomar (R-Saipan) and recently passed by the Senate, will adjust the early voting time and add more polling places. It will extend the hours of operations for early voting and election day.

The bill will give CEC the flexibility to make changes to the election procedures if necessary to mitigate the public health risks due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under the bill that the House had just passed, the period for early voting by personal appearance on Saipan and the Northern Islands begins on the 21st day preceding an election and extends through the last day before election day up to 5pm.

For Rota and Tinian, the period of early voting by personal appearance begins on the 7th day preceding an election and extends through the last day before election day up to 5pm.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at
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