Election commission: 69 absentee voters have 2 residences

SIXTY-NINE registered absentee voters have two residences, Commonwealth Election Commission board chair Frances Sablan said, adding that they are still reviewing the list and expects the number to increase.

Now that they have a quorum with the recent swearing in of Joseph Santos of Tinian and Esther Yatar from Rota, the board met on Friday afternoon with member Trinidad Rabauliman attending through teleconference.

The re-appointed member from Tinian, Donald Hofschneider, has yet to be confirmed by the Senate.

The board discussed the absentee ballots and the removal from the list of names “facing some issues.”

It was agreed that the commission’s executive director Julita Villagomez will call all the voters in question on Oct. 31 to verify their residences. A hearing will also take place on that day.

The board appointed member Jesus Sablan to be the hearing officer in case they can’t hire private counsel for the hearing.

In an interview, Frances Sablan said they are anticipating that the ballots for the Nov. 8 elections will arrive on island on the 18th of this month.

The 21,000 ballots will come from Nebraska and cost $27,000, she said, adding that the cost includes printing, coding, layout and site support.

She said they are thankful to Gov. Ralph Torres for his assistance in expediting the release of the payment for the ballots and the attorney general’s approval of the contract with the printing company ESNS which is based in Nebraska.

Gov. Ralph Torres administers the oath of office to Commonwealth Election Commission board member Joseph Santos of Tinian.  Photo by Cherrie Anne E. VillahermosaGov. Ralph Torres administers the oath of office to Commonwealth Election Commission board member Joseph Santos of Tinian. Photo by Cherrie Anne E. Villahermosa

But she said they had not sent a single absentee ballot as of last week because of the delay in the arrival of the ballots.

She said there are 1,401 requests for absentee ballots that will be sent out this week, adding that the CNMI has a total of 17,936 registered voters.

Frances Sablan said if they can’t meet the deadline for sending and receiving the absentee ballots, which by law must be received on Nov. 8, she is hoping that the governor “can reprogram some money so we can expedite sending the absentee ballots because the regular postmark takes two weeks so we want to expedite the process so there will be no delays in sending and in getting them back.”

Assistant Attorney General Michael Witry, Frances Sablan and Julita Villagomez talked about Rep. Felicidad Ogumoro’s bill to extend the deadline by 10 days, but the discussion was private.

House Bill 19-204 remains pending in the House.

Governor Torres, in a separate interview on Friday, said he welcomes action from the Legislature to address any possible concerns.

“It’s always nice for our leadership to introduce legislation to address whatever concerns we have. I hope they can act on it soon so I can sign it also,” Torres added.

On Friday morning, Joseph Santos of Tinian was sworn in by the governor as the election commission’s newest member.

Santos, who served in the military, said he is ready to work with the other commission board members to ensure that this year’s election is fair, honest and orderly.

“It’s a privilege to be appointed by the governor and to be confirmed by the Senate,” he added.