Majuro-- Marshall Islands President Hilda Heine says the court’s recent decision on postal voting by overseas citizens will protect the integrity of the voting system, and has accused candidates who are criticizing the government of supporting corruption and vote stacking.
Heine said the government wants to find a way for overseas residents to vote securely and that the newly elected government will work on the issues, but “there is no way the system can change for this election."
The Marshall Islands Supreme Court ruled last month that a three-year-old law banning the use of postal absentee ballots for national elections is unconstitutional because it did not offer a reasonable alternative method for islanders to cast their votes.
But because the two complaints that triggered the ruling were filed close to the Nov. 18 national election, the Supreme Court’s ruling will apply only for later elections.
“The Supreme Court has clearly found that there is no constitutional right to a postal ballot or any other specific measure of voting for citizens residing overseas,” she explained.
While the president acknowledges that the decision has been met with mixed reaction from residents and Marshallese living overseas, she said the top priority for the Government was to take a stand against corruption, revealing that in previous elections, some overseas voters took advantage of the lack of security and control around voting to engage in unlawful activities like vote staking and multiple voting.
“We know that some people would gather ballot forms and vote for others, and we know other illegal acts have taken place, all because to this point the integrity of the system of overseas ballots could not be guaranteed.
“My government has worked for this entire parliamentary term to stamp out corruption in various forms that has sadly occurred in the past, and we must continue to ensure that there is no rigging of votes in this election.
“This is what this decision is about, and I call on all Marshallese who believe in honesty and integrity to support this.”
She said the Government had not only been steadfast in fighting corruption, but wants to ensure that the rights of every citizen are protected.
“I suggest that those politicians who criticise this move and want to bring back postal votes with no structure or accountability are those who would only be elected by vote rigging,” she said. “My government is not going to be influenced or threatened by people who want to stack votes.”
The president confirmed that following the election she will work on a more suitable way of handling the outside voting system, one where there is structure and accountability.
“I am not against the principle of overseas voting, but the process must be protected for the honest citizens of RMI.”