Thousands make voices heard

Slow but smooth election

A poll worker checks the registration of Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP), as he prepares to cast his vote at the Garapan Elementary School. He was accompanied to the polling site by his wife, Andrea. (NEIL FAMA)

Most people had their work hours cut, several have lost their jobs, families are tightening their budget, the private sector is struggling, and residents and the government are essentially dependent on federal funding due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, but that did not stop thousands of face mask-wearing voters from making their voices heard at yesterday’s generally peaceful but out-of-the-ordinary election in the CNMI.

As of press time last night, the Commonwealth Election Commission had yet to start tabulating the ballots. They weren’t expected to do so until around 10pm or 11pm last night.

In this extraordinary election, people had more choices as the Democratic Party had 18 candidates or almost a full slate, which is the first time in over four decades for the party.

The Republican Party had 21 candidates, while nine are running as independents. There were also 20 nonpartisans, including one justice and two judges who were on the retention ballot.

Commonwealth Election Commission executive director Julita A. Villagomez said they had no major problems at all. This was echoed by CEC administrative hearing officer Kayla Igitol, who said the election has been running well, and they haven’t had any major concerns.

“It’s just voters not knowing whether they’re registered or they forget that they’re registered, or they forget that they never registered,” she said. Others failed to vote in three successive elections and are only now trying to come out and vote, not knowing that they’re now considered inactive.

“But that’s the only situations we’ve been running into. Nothing major. Things have been going really smooth,” she said.

A voter casts a vote inside the polling station at Oleai Elementary School. (Ferdie De La Torre)

Igitol said the early voting did help with the pace that they’re seeing on election day yesterday—pretty slow but smooth. “But it was 21 days. That was a long time,” she said, referring to the early voting period.

As of Monday, a total of 8,369 had cast early votes in the CNMI. The 21-day early voting on Saipan and seven-day early voting on Tinian and Rota ended Monday.

As of Oct. 7, there was a total of 18,519 registered voters in the CNMI. As of Oct. 26, there were 1,625 absentee voters.

Villagomez said the CEC board met yesterday afternoon to formalize their tabulation committee.

Poima Maleah Mafnas Tarkong, 21, who was among those who voted yesterday afternoon at Dandan Middle School, was supposed to avail of the 21-day early voting process, but she was just so busy being a full-time student at Northern Marianas College and has two jobs. “So since today I was off and my classes were cancelled, I actually had the time to come and vote today,” Tarkong said.

She said the voting process was very fast and very easy so she really appreciates the CEC officials and staff for working on it.

Tarkong said she decided to select the candidates based of what they stand for. She said she selects people who seem to really do want change and make the islands better and not people who just talk and make empty promises.

Tarkong said she based it on her knowledge of what they actually do for the community and how she knows them as best as she could.  “The problem here is we don’t really have a lot to choose from in certain instances. So I tried to incorporate that into voting but sometimes it’s hard when there’s not a lot of representation,” Tarkong added.

House Speaker Blas Jonathan T. Attao (R-Saipan), who is seeking re-election for Precinct 3 under the Republican Party, said that having the Democratic Party fielding many candidates is a good opportunity for people to make choices.

Attao said the availability of more candidates a very good outcome for the election. “It’s positive because we have choices and, at the end of the day, people get to decide who will be representing them in the next two years and we’ve got to respect that,” he said. “Opportunities is all that people ask for and they should get those opportunities.”

Attao gave credit to the CEC for stepping up. He said the CEC went to the Legislature to work something out and urge the Legislature to pass a temporary law for this election because of the COVID-19 pandemic that’s facing the world.

“We give credit to those guys at the election commission for working that out and making sure that the people’s safety comes first,” Attao said.

Former House speaker Heinz Hofschneider said in an interview after voting at Garapan Elementary School that he wishes all the candidates the best. Hofschneider said the Democrats, the Republicans, and independents worked hard in this election. “May the best candidates that the people see win,” he said.

Hofschneider said this is a difficult period that everyone is experiencing, not only the CNMI but around the world. “We have so many challenges. And I’m hoping for the best that people pay attention to the people and focus on the economy,” he said.

Hofschneider said that, without the economy, even if there is a grandiose plan to benefit the people, it won’t be possible if the CNMI does not rejuvenate the economy.

Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) and his wife, Andrea, voted at the Garapan Elementary School at 9am.

Sablan said the voting process was organized and that the CEC had to enforce safety measures so it took a little bit of time to vote.

Sablan said he understands that maybe over half of the people voted either through early voting or absentee ballots, which make it a little easier for in-person voting yesterday.

“Today I think it’s going to be a little slower but also safer,” he said.

Sablan said he is humbled and grateful, being a sure winner as he is running unopposed.

He said it allowed him more time to do the work that he needed to done in Congress. “We got this education money for teachers and school support staff that I’ve been working on for some time. We finally we’re able to put together and we introduced it in the House and that brings 10 years of funding for teachers and support staff—the salaries basically,” Sablan said.

The delegate said the Democratic Party fielding many candidates is good as it gives people more choices. He said the two sides can debate their policies and explain to the people their differences, if there are any.

“This, I hope, is a start of the rebirth if, I may, of the two party-system,” Sablan said.

More voters started arriving at polling places between 10am and 1pm.

Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and first lady Diann Torres voted early last Saturday at the Kagman Community Center.

There are 68 candidates for 39 positions in this election.

Aside from the delegate’s position, there are 38 positions up for grabs.

Voters elected the delegate, one senator each for Saipan, Tinian, and Rota, 20 members of the House of Representatives, eight members of the municipal councils for Saipan, Tinian, and Rota, and three Board of Education members.

On Saipan, there are three positions for the municipal council, but there are only two candidates.

For Board of Education, there is no position for Tinian.

People also voted whether to retain or not on the bench CNMI Supreme Court Associate Justice Perry B. Inos, and Superior Court Presiding Judge Roberto C. Naraja and Associate Judge Kenneth L. Govendo.

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 ferdie_delatorre@Saipantribune.com
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