‘Wrong key—not malfunction—caused failure to open lock of NI ballot box’
Temporary public auditor Deleon Guerrero apologizes to CEC, entire community
The Office of the Public Auditor has confirmed that the failure to open the lock of a ballot box that contained early voting ballots for the Northern Islands was not a result of malfunction, but rather because the OPA legal counsel at the ballot count had the wrong key.
Temporary public auditor Dora I. Deleon Guerrero said that after an extensive review of their records, they have subsequently determined that the wrong set of keys for the NI early voting was provided to their legal counsel, Ashley Kost, on the night of the Nov. 8 general election.
Deleon Guerrero said the correct key remained in the possession of an OPA employee.
Deleon Guerrero notified Commonwealth Election Commission board chair Jesus I. Sablan about their findings regarding the key in a letter dated Friday.
The key issue was among the factors that delayed the tabulation of votes on the night of the Nov. 8 general election. Democratic Party’s Strategic Committee chair Daniel Quitugua earlier questioned the legality of the CEC forcibly cutting the lock to open the box. CEC completed the tabulation process about 21 hours later at the Pedro P. Tenorio Multi-Purpose Center in Susupe.
The temporary public auditor said that OPA has reviewed the daily logs and determined that all seals, locks, and keys are all accounted for and properly documented.
“The lock and seal attached to the NI early voting ballot box up to the time of tabulation was intact and showed no signs of tampering, that the integrity of the ballots was at no time compromised,” Deleon Guerrero said.
She said there is no excuse for this “unfortunate situation,” and that she takes full responsibility for the concern it caused the community and the adverse impact on the CEC. She said maintaining the integrity of the ballots and assisting during the free election process was their priority.
“I believe my team did a great job in following through with those priorities. However, we are also accountable for our actions and acknowledge responsibility,” Deleon Guerrero said.
She said they have identified the cause of this incident and have strengthened their internal control process to ensure this does not happen again.
“On behalf of OPA, I would like to extend our sincere apologies to CEC and the entire community,” she said.
At 2:15am Wednesday, CEC executive director Kayla S. Igitol told reporters that they had to cut the lock using a bolt cutter for the ballot box of the NI as they key could not open one of two locks. CEC’s legal counsel, deputy attorney general Lillian A. Tenorio, explained that it’s protocol to forcibly open a ballot box if they can’t open it with the key.
The box contained 139 NI early votes. OPA investigator Edward Cabrera forcibly opened the lock using a bolt cutter.