‘Smooth election’

CEC prepares for voter challenges on Tinian
A woman in a wheelchair occupies one of the polling booths at the  Multi-Purpose Building of Kagman Elementary School yesterday. (Roselyn B. Monroyo)

A woman in a wheelchair occupies one of the polling booths at the Multi-Purpose Building of Kagman Elementary School yesterday. (Roselyn B. Monroyo)

Thousands exercised their rights to suffrage in yesterday’s 2016 general election, but the Commonwealth Election Commission is already preparing for voter challenges on Tinian.

The bulk of voters started trooping to polling places from 11am to 1am and from 4pm to closing time at 5pm.

With 17,930 registered voters in the CNMI, this year’s midterm election—now referred to as a general election—is the second biggest in CNMI history. The 2014 general and special election for a third Saipan senatorial seat was the biggest with a record-breaking 17,986 registered voters. It’s not clear yet whether this year’s turnout is high or low.

As of press time, tabulation of votes was still ongoing at the Pedro P. Tenorio Multi-Purpose Center in Susupe.

The local elections coincided with the U.S. Presidential elections pitting Democratic Party standard bearer Hillary Clinton against the Republican Party’s Donald Trump.

CEC chair Frances M. Sablan said the general election on Saipan, Tinian, and Rota was smooth and orderly.

“There were some issues, some concerns but they were dealt with,” Sablan said.

Sablan said the CEC board discussed yesterday some voter challenges that came from the senatorial district of Tinian. “So that was one of the ones that was a little bit bigger than the other usual cases,” she said.

When asked to elaborate on voter challenges, the CEC chair disclosed that there were some on Tinian who wanted to challenge the voters before they cast their votes.

“Once the votes are put into the ballots we cannot technically do anything about it because we cannot retrieve the ballots,” she said.

Sablan noted that a committee would need to address those challenges. The CEC would designate a CEC staff and one of the CEC commissioners, plus the public auditor.

Sablan already designated the CEC commissioners from both Tinian and Rota as representatives and the CEC staff to deal with the voter challenges as they come in.

“And we need to deal with it within five days after the election,” she said.

Some examples of voter challenges are when some persons are not supposed to be voting, that they are not living in the CNMI.

“Another example is the dual residency, that they are voting here and voting elsewhere,” Sablan said.

Sablan said voter challenges are only on Tinian because they are the ones that are a little bit sensitive because just like the senatorial district of Rota, they are the ones where each vote counts.

According to the Commonwealth Election Commission’s hourly tally sheet report posted at the Gilbert Ada Gymnasium in Susupe, only 25 cast their votes during the opening hour. The number of voters started to swell by 11am with 107, 140 at 12pm, and 169 at 1pm.

This was the same trend at Dandan Elementary School and at most of the other polling sites.

GTC had 597 registered voters. Poll officials list votes cast every hour since 7am. As of 12pm, 157 have already cast their votes. Poll officials said the morning turnout has been slow, but they expect more people to come in the afternoon once they get off from work.

Capital Hill and the Jesus Mafnas Legislative Building had 382 registered voters and 109 turned out for early voting. Yesterday, there were 76 voters as of 12pm.

Poll officials did not know the total number of registered voters for Kagman 1 and 2. As of 12pm yesterday, 229 have cast their votes for Kagman 2 (Precinct 5-2) and 241 for Kagman 1 (Precinct 5-1).

At a meeting yesterday at 2pm, the CEC board officially formulated a tabulation committee that consists of seven CEC commissioners from Saipan, Tinian, and Rota.

“So we are now officially the tabulation committee,” Sablan announced at the meeting.

The CEC board also agreed to have the absentee ballots picked up yesterday at 4pm from the U.S. Postal Office in Chalan Kanoa, opened, stamped, locked in the ballot box, and secured at Correction. The board agreed to open and process the ballot box of absentee ballots on Nov. 22.

The commissioners agreed to check if any other absentee ballots are delivered to their senatorial districts.

Sablan said the first batch to be tabulated at the Multi-Purpose Center will be the early votes. Over 5,000 cast early votes on the three islands.

CEC legal counsel Michael Witry said CEC administrative hearing officer George Lloyd Hasselback has completed hearing the cases of “dual voters” or “dual residency” and placed them under considerations.

Witry said Hasselback told him he will issue an opinion by the end of the week.

Out of 85 cases of “dual voters,” only over 20 called and were heard.

Businessman Eli Buenaventura said this year’s election is exciting because it’s his and his wife’s first time to do so.

Buenaventura, who hails from Bulacan, Philippines, came to Saipan in 1986 and he became a U.S. citizen only in December 2015.

“We want to vote for a lot of our friends, but we can only vote for a few,” said Buenaventura, who was among those who voted at 12pm at Dandan Elementary School.

Assistant attorney general James Zaronas, who is one of the poll observers from the Office of the Attorney General, was seen signaling vehicles that had campaign posters not to stop in the middle of the road near the gate of Dandan Middle School at noon.

Zaronas said vehicles with campaign posters should not stop on the road because that’s illegal.

Zaronas said government lawyers are mostly observing and if they see violations, they call CEC or the police.

He said he is monitoring to ensure that political supporters stay 300 feet away from polling places.

Voters elected the delegate to the U.S. Congress, senators, House of Representatives members, municipal councilors, and Board of Education members. They also voted whether to retain on the bench or not Superior Court Associate Judge Joseph N. Camacho.

Polling stations opened at exactly 7am and closed at 7pm.

Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and first lady Diann Torres voted on the last day of the early voting on Monday. Lt. Gov. Victor Hocog voted on Rota.

U.S. Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP), who is unopposed in his re-election for a fifth straight term, cast his vote at Garapan Elementary School.

It was lively in front of Dandan Middle School and at Hopwood as some party supporters danced to loud music while waving to motorists and voters coming in and out of the school gates.

It was sunny, hot weather, but later in the afternoon it became cloudy. (With Roselyn Monroyo and Michael T. Santos)

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a veteran journalist who has covered all news beats in the CNMI. Born in Lilo-an, Cebu City in the Philippines, De la Torre graduated from the University of Santo Tomas with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He is a recipient of many commendations and awards, including the CNMI Judiciary’s prestigious Justice Award for his over 10 years of reporting on the judiciary’s proceedings and decisions. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@saipantribune.com

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