As we look forward to the November elections, issues are being raised regarding who is eligible to vote here in the CNMI and who is disqualified from voting.
Article VII of the Commonwealth Constitution states:
Section 1: Qualifications of Voters. A person is eligible to vote who, on the date of the election, is eighteen years of age or older, is domiciled in the Commonwealth, is a resident of the Commonwealth and has resided in the Commonwealth for a period of time provided bylaw, is not serving a sentence for a felony, has not been found by a court to be of unsound mind, and is either a citizen of national of the United States. The legislature may require that persons eligible to vote be citizens of the United States.
Section 2. Prohibition of Literacy Requirement. A person may not be denied the right to vote because that person is unable to read or write.
Section 3. Domicile and Residence…
See also 1 CMC § 6201.
Issues seem to arise when someone is or has been jailed, or when someone is perceived to be mentally limited or when a person is unable to read or write. However, just because someone has been in jail or appears incompetent or cannot read or write does not disqualify a person from voting. Our CNMI Constitution protects the right to vote, and disqualification is limited and specific.
Persons “serving a sentence for a felony” includes persons on parole or probation or under a suspended sentence after conviction of a felony. “The disqualification, however, ends when the person has served the sentence or the suspension, probation or parole has expired…and also ends with the grant of a pardon.” Analysis of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, art. VII, § 1, p. 123 (Dec. 6, 1976). Note that this section refers to a felony conviction, not a misdemeanor conviction.
Disqualification for persons found to be of unsound mind by a court includes “determination of insanity by criminal courts, determinations of unsound mind in civil commitment proceedings, and determinations of unsound mind in any other kind of court proceeding.” Analysis of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, art. VII, §1, p. 124 (Dec. 6, 1976)
The prohibition of literacy requirement “prohibits the use of any literacy test as a qualification to vote…[and] applies to any requirements that a person demonstrate an ability to speak, read, or write any language, including English, Chamorro and Carolinian…[and] prohibits any kind of educational requirements for voter eligibility.” Analysis of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, art. VII, § 2, p.124 (Dec. 6, 1976).
Voting is a right and one of the most important civic responsibilities of citizens of the United States. Register and vote!
If you are a person with disabilities and are having trouble or being denied the right to register and vote, contact the Northern Marianas Protection and Advocacy Systems Inc.at (670) 235-7273/4 or www.nmpasi.org.
Jeanne Rayphand (Special to the Saipan Tribune)