Where is the ship of ballots?
Colonia, Yap-- The election in Yap for governor, lieutenant governor and the 10 senate seats is the subject of long threads of exasperated comments and speculations on Facebook as well as in shops and other locations all over the island. The 2,440 votes cast on the main island for the two gubernatorial teams were announced, albeit unofficially, on the morning of Nov. 7. Henry S. Falan and Jesse John Salalu were ahead by 76 votes.
But the ballots from Yap’s Outer Islands, Saipan, Pohnpei, Guam and Hawaii were not included in the count. The wooden, padlocked ballot boxes needed to be collected and delivered to the main island for counting via plane and ship.
The Yap State Election Commissioner’s office announced that same morning after the election that “all ballot boxes are expected to be collected from abroad” and “tabulated once all have been received.” Two days later, on November 9, the public was informed by the YSEC that the boxes from Election District 2, one of the five election districts, were “anticipated to arrive today.” Further, “as of yesterday, the election office [has] received some of the ballot boxes” from ED3, but two of the boxes from that district were to be flown in on Nov. 15.
The YSEC memo also noted that two additional districts, ED4 and 5 that represent six atolls and islands, were awaiting collection by the State Ship Hapilmohol 1. It was in Chuuk for “resupply of fuel and lubes” and, “when permitted will be steaming to both election districts to expedite delivery of all ballot boxes” in both of those districts. “The date and schedule of H1 is not yet available at this time, however, the office will release that information as soon as it receives it.”
And then there were the out-of-state ballot boxes from Guam, Pohnpei and Honolulu that YSEC was expecting to arrive on Nov. 11 and Nov. 14 by air. However, the election commissioner, Laura Tinningdad added, “given the current issues of domestic shipping and the infrequent air service to our State, getting the ballot boxes to arrive on a timely manner is a major challenge.”
It was another five days before the next update arrived from her office on Nov. 14. By then, her office had received all the boxes from ED 2 and 3 that represent five atolls and islands but were still waiting for the sailing schedule of the H1 “which at this time is being worked out with the National Government.” They were “hoping that as soon as we receive H1’s sailing schedule that it will give us a better understanding on when we can do the final tabulation for all the ballot boxes.” The Guam and Pohnpei boxes had been received, it added, but they had not yet “received the Saipan and Honolulu ballot boxes.” They were “anticipating receiving” them the coming weekend. The memo ended with the plea, “As the election office continues its efforts in getting all ballot boxes to the tabulation table, we ask for your patience and understanding in all the delays we have had in this election.”
In the meantime, it was learned that a handful of Yapese members of the military based in Guam who were sent to Saipan to help with the aftermath of Typhoon Yutu were given approval by the YSEC and the attorney general to vote in Saipan. To accommodate registered voters on Saipan who were affected by the storm, the election deadline was moved forward to Monday, Nov. 12. Dozens of comments to this news on Facebook set up a storm of accusations about the legality of postponing the election.
Frustration continued to build among the populace who live on Yap and in the U.S. and Guam. Exasperation spilled over with questions about why the YSEC was not counting the ballots and posting the unofficial results as the boxes arrived. The coconut wireless was busy with rumors and hearsay. The election code was consulted and posted but still the comments lashed out at the system and the YSEC.
Then, on Nov. 15, another Facebook poster asked why the H1 was reportedly being held in Chuuk for mechanical repairs where it had recently been delivered after being in dry dock for several years awaiting repairs. Rumor had it that the booms were inoperable. Sen. Isaac Figir responded that there were “no mechanical problems with the H1 so far.” Trial runs were still being held “to ensure the ship is functioning as expected for warrantee purposes. It’s an old ship and [the national] government invested a substantial amount of money on its dry docking. They will release the ship to our state when they are satisfy [sic] with it.”
Francis Itimai, director of the Yap State Department of Youth and Civic Affairs and the running mate for lieutenant governor with incumbent Governor Tony Ganngiyan, replied, “As of this morning I got a message from the Chief Officer on H1 that they have offloaded all cargo and will set departure for Yap and stop briefly in all the islands with ballot boxes to pick them up as approved in their sailing order by the National Government and due to arrive in Yap on November 20 if all goes well. I hope your concerns are put to rest.” He continued, “She is all set to sail out of Chuuk tomorrow [Friday, November 16]... The National Government is still the owner of the vessel and it funded her dry dock. We must thank the National Government as we did in all our platform.”
The ship will once again resume its essential service to the remote Outer Islands when it is released and makes the rounds of the islands to collect the ballot boxes. But it’s an election with two sides competing for the prize. There are some who question what they see as opportunistic timing of the ship’s release from dry dock after several years of being out of service and its appearance in the incumbent’s platform just in time for the election. For now, though, Yap is impatiently focusing on getting the votes delivered, counted and made official.