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Editorials 2018-November-19

Staying sane…

ON Election Day, Nov. 13th, candidates and voters interviewed by Variety on Saipan praised the Commonwealth Election Commission for the smooth conduct of the polls. But it was a different story with the tabulation of the ballots.

Since the rise of social media, voters and candidates have expected the CEC to announce, through online media, initial partial results, precinct by precinct, district by district, as soon as they were counted by the machines. That didn’t happen this year.

The following account is based on the explanation provided to reporters by the CEC and its technical support staff:

The CEC’s vote-counting machines from Nebraska were damaged by Typhoon Yutu, but this crucial fact wasn’t known until they were tested by the technicians. Apparently, the CEC didn’t have enough time to order new machines from Nebraska so it “borrowed” Guam’s. So far so good. It turned out, however, that the Guam’s machines were not programmed to provide precinct-by-precinct results. They had to count all the ballots from all the precincts and districts, and the results had to be double-checked by technical support staff to ensure accuracy.

It was the slowest tabulation in CNMI election history since 1997 when ballots were still counted manually. But in that year, partial unofficial results were known by 4 p.m. on the day after the elections. This year, they were known by 6 a.m. which was par for the course. Considering the extraordinary circumstances that the CEC had to deal with — which included the delay in the arrival of the ballots from Tinian and Rota, again because of typhoon-related issues — the commission still managed to ensure that the votes were counted accurately, and the people would know the partial results as soon as they were available.

Among the lessons learned in this election year is that the CEC should consider securing its voting-machines in a vault, especially during the typhoon season.


AS in past elections, some numbers in the initial results this year contained errors. These are probably hard to avoid especially when some of the humans who record the results are already tired because they are sleep-deprived and have been working for the past 24 hours. But, as in the past, the errors were corrected as soon as they were spotted or reported, and they did not indicate results that were the opposite of the actual tally. In future elections, the CEC should perhaps consider deploying its hard-working staff by shifts so they could remain sharp-eyed throughout tabulation night.

Some pointed out that in the states, many election results are already known even before tabulations begins. True. They’re called exit polls, but like scientific poll surveys, conducting them costs a lot of money. Moreover, they’re not always accurate, especially in close races.