Thousands make their voices heard

Lines form as residents prepare to cast their votes in the 2018 elections yesterday at the Garapan Roundhouse. (Erwin Encinares)

Many homes remain in shambles, some roads still have leaning power poles, debris still litters many villages, and concerns were raised whether the election will push through after Super Typhoon Yutu, yet that did not stop thousands from making their voices heard at yesterday’s generally peaceful election in the CNMI.

Unlike previous gubernatorial elections, though, this year’s voters, who are still shell-shocked from Yutu’s destruction, will not be returning for a runoff election.

Commonwealth Election Commission executive director Julita A. Villagomez said they had only minor problems.

“It’s pretty good. Pretty smooth,” Villagomez said.

The only minor issue the CEC had were calls from different precincts about voters not knowing where to vote, said CEC administrative officer Kayla Igitol.

Igitol disclosed that over 2,000 absentee ballots were picked up at the U.S. Post Office and placed in 11 ballot boxes.

A total of 6,926 cast early votes in the CNMI. Early voting lasted seven days.

Saipan Tribune learned that the boat that picked up votes on the Northern Islands arrived with 10 votes.

With a record-breaking 18,975 voters in the CNMI as of last Oct. 5, this year’s election is supposed to be the biggest in Commonwealth history. As of press time, the final number of actual voters was not available yet.

House Speaker Ralph Demapan (R-Saipan) said the voting process went great despite the islands’ situation after Yutu.

“I think the election is going smooth. Today is the day for our people to go out and exercise their right to vote,” said Demapan, who cast his vote at the Joeten-Kiyu Public Library in Susupe.

While Demapan was casting his vote, the generator at the polling place stopped, apparently due to a lack of fuel. The voting, however, continued. After a few minutes, the generator was up and running again.

Assistant attorney general Barbara Cepeda, who was assigned as an observer at precincts 1 and 2, saw no problem.

“Everything is very smooth and organized. No violation at all,” said Cepeda as of 9:30am yesterday.

According to CEC’s hourly tally sheet, at Joeten-Kiyu Public Library, 19 people cast their votes during the hour of 7am to 8am, then went up to 58 in the next hour, then 107; 137; and 176 at noon. The number further went up to 214 at 1am, 247 at 2pm, and 275 at 3pm.

At the Marianas Visitors Authority, the trend was the same—the first opening hour had 18 voters. That went up to 33 in the next hour and further increased to 73 by 10am.

At the Garapan Roundhouse, gubernatorial candidate Juan N. Babauta and his running mate, former Education commissioner Dr. Rita A. Sablan, voted past 10am. Babauta and Sablan were accompanied by their spouses.

The Garapan Roundhouse was the only polling place that had no air-conditioning unit as it is an open venue.

Babauta said the election, so far, was organized. The former governor said he commends CEC for handling the election well.

“I’m glad for that despite the disaster that we just went through, the election is still going through,” he said.

Babauta said he would like to see a higher turnout.

“I’m just kind of havig a little concern that maybe people are still in a recovery mood,” said Babauta, adding that the excitement to vote may have been dampened by the typhoon disaster.

“I hope that…people will just kind of take a little bit of their time to do an important civic duty to go out and cast their vote for the leadership of the next four years,” he said.

Babauta feels good about the election results but, at the same time, a little bit nervous as in every election.

Based on what she has seen at polling sites, Sablan believes the election process has been smooth.

“A lot of candidates and their supporters are out there in the field and they’re honking and cheering. So, I guess everyone is excited about election 2018,” Sablan said.

Voters elected the governor, the lieutenant governor, the CNMI’s delegate to U.S. Congress, the attorney general, senators, House of Representatives members, mayors, municipal councilors, and Board of Education members. They also voted whether to retain or not on the bench CNMI Supreme Court Chief Justice Alexandro C. Castro and Superior Court Associate Judge Teresa Kim-Tenorio.

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

As of press time last night, tabulation and counting of votes at the Pedro P. Tenorio Multi-Purpose Center in Susupe had yet to start.

Gov. Ralph DLG Torres availed of the early voting when he and his wife went to the Pedro P. Tenorio Multi-Purpose Center last Thursday.

His running mate, Senate President Arnold I. Palacios (R-Saipan), also went for early voting last Saturday.

Delegate Gregorio Kilili Sablan (Ind-MP) voted at the Garapan Roundhouse, while his challenger, Rep. Angel Demapan (R-Saipan), voted at Dandan Middle School.

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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