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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center

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Officials Call On Public To Vote For CNMI’s Future
Elections see new counting machine, volunteer watchdog group

By Emmanuel T. Erediano

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Nov. 6, 2012) – With a bigger and faster tabulation machine and with volunteer poll watchers overseeing the elections, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands voters will today chart a course for the next two years.

The commonwealth has 16,771 registered voters.

Many believe that today’s midterm elections will decide whether or not Gov. Benigno R. Fitial will be impeached again.

The 10 House members who voted no on the impeachment resolution are running on his NMI Republican Party slate.

Those opposed to the governor are running as Independent Republicans, Covenant Party or Independent candidates, and they want to impeach the governor again in January when the new Legislature convenes.

Independent Republican vice chairman, former Lt. Gov. Diego T. Benavente is calling all registered voters to come out and vote "because we all know that the governor’s Republican Party candidates will be out there to protect the governor and their individual interests."

He is appealing to the people of the commonwealth who are concerned about the future of their children to vote for change.

U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan, for his part, said: "I think we are at the tipping point. The people are saying enough is enough. We need to get through the darkness and into the light. We have to make some changes in this election so I am asking the people to come out and vote your conscience."

"If you are angry at what is happening to your islands, come out and vote. If you think that a lot of things are going wrong, come out and vote and make them right," he added.

Sablan is running against the governor’s candidate, former Kagman Elementary School principal Dr. Ignacia Tudela Demapan.

Press Secretary Angel A. Demapan, for his part, said "it is absolutely not true" that GOP candidates are running to protect the governor from another impeachment move.

He said the Republican candidates "have stepped forward based solely on their willingness to serve the public, their own qualifications and own ideas to move the islands forward."

Demapan said those opposed to the governor "should be planning how to solve the problems between now and January and not plan an impeachment move again."

New machine

Commonwealth Election Commission executive director Robert Guerrero showed this reporter a new tabulation machine yesterday which counts ballots at double the speed of the models they’ve used in the past,

According to Glenn Foote, operation director of Election System Software, Model 550 counts up to 300 ballots per minute which is twice the number of ballots that Model 150 can count in the same period.

But Guerrero said they still have to take into account the number of ballots that will be rejected by the machine. The commission will have to review them which may cause delays in the announcement of results.

In the 2009 general elections, which was the last time the commission used the tabulation machine, Guerrero said they started tabulating between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. and finished at around 3 a.m.

Variety files, however, indicated that the tabulation in that year was completed at around 6 a.m.

With the new machine they have now, Guerrero said they will start the tabulation at 7:30 p.m. and finish at 12 midnight.

Guerrero said they will start counting whichever ballots arrive first. It is likely, he added, that absentee ballots will be tabulated first.

Rising Tide

A group of volunteers will be at the polling centers today to keep an eye on possible irregularities.

In an email interview yesterday, anti-corruption activist Glen Hunter said Rising Tide is a civic action group whose mission is "to end public corruption in our islands and restore trust in our government.:

It is a nonpartisan election observation project. The goal is to improve the credibility and integrity of future elections in the CNMI, he said.

According to Hunter, over 30 volunteers have signed on to observe today’s elections.

"As citizens we have the power to be actively involved in the electoral process," he said.

Rising Tide will need about 60 volunteers dedicating at least four hours of their time today.

The more volunteers they get, the fewer hours each person will be asked to contribute. They will need at least two watchers at each of the polling centers, for integrity and cross-checking. Their hope is to have three shifts of volunteers who will be at the poll centers four hours per shift.

They will stay at a reasonable distance from the polling centers’ entrance just "far enough not to interfere with the voting process, but just close enough to be able to see people enter."

Hunter said the volunteers will observe, take notes and document anything they find irregular or questionable.

Hunter said Rising Tide does not intend to influence, disrupt, or interfere with the operations or the outcome of the 2012 election. The results and findings gathered by volunteers are not intended to be legally binding or to be used to challenge the results of this 2012 election.

In an interview, Guerrero said he has no problem with volunteers as long as they don’t do anything against the law.

"They can look. If their intent is just to sit there and watch, I cannot stop that," Guerrero said, adding that any citizen should let the election commission know if he or she sees something out of the ordinary.

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