Sablan endorses Palacios in CNMI runoff
By Bryan Manabat
Saipan-- CNMI Republican Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and his independent opponent, Lt. Gov. Arnold Palacios are headed to a yet-to-be-scheduled runoff election.
None of the three candidates for governor received the majority vote required to win the race for the top political post.
As expected, the CNMI Democratic Party's candidate, Rep. Tina Sablan, who ran with Leila Staffler, endorsed Palacios and his running mate, Mayor David Apatang, in the runoff for governor and lt. governor after coming in last in the three-way race on Tuesday.
The CNMI Constitution states that, “If no candidates receive more than one-half of the total votes cast and counted for the offices of the governor and lieutenant governor, on the fourteenth day thereafter, a runoff election shall be held between the candidates for governor and the lieutenant governor receiving the highest and second highest number of votes cast and counted for those offices.”
According to the Commonwealth Elections Commission, the CNMI had a total of 19,329 registered voters and only 14,916 cast their ballots in the general elections.
Torres and his running mate, Sen. Vinnie Sablan, received 5,726 votes.
The Sablan-Staffler tandem received a total of 4,132 or 28.02 percent votes, while the Palacios-Apatang team garnered a total of 4,890 or 33.16 percent votes
Following the CEC's release of the final ballot count on Nov. 9, Sablan and Staffler held a press conference asking their supporters to vote for the Palacios-Apatang team.
"They are the better choice," Sablan said. "Don't despair, don't lose hope. Keep the faith, and get out and vote."
Apatang said he and Palacios are ready for the runoff. "We were actually working very hard to avoid a runoff but, we will work very hard to win this runoff," he added.
Prior to the elections, political observers raised doubts that any of the three candidates in the crowded three-way race would receive a 50 percent-plus one vote, approximately 9,636 votes.
Pacific Island Times learned that the Independent Party candidates initially invited the Democratic Party candidates to join forces but this was summarily rejected by the Sablan-Staffler during the campaign.
After the absentee ballots were tabulated Wednesday afternoon, CEC Board Chair Jesus I. Sablan made a statement concerning the status of some absentee voters.
He said, 333 letters were mailed to certain voters who requested absentee ballots but whose eligibility was in question based on domicile and residency requirements of the statute.
These voters included those registered in another state or territory.
The administrative hearing officer held hearings in response to requests made by 63 out of the 333.
Following the hearing process, Sablan said, 19 of the voters were referred to the CEC executive director for reconsideration and were deemed qualified to cast their absentee ballots.
The election commission approved the administrative hearing officer's recommendation to retain 39 absentee voters on the CNMI registry for the 2022 general election. Five were found ineligible to remain on the voter registry.
As for the absentee applicants who had not requested a hearing, the election board decided to disqualify and remove them from the voter registry those who are dual registered on election day as required by law.
"All the other voters on the list who are not 'dual registered' would be allowed to have their absentee ballots counted in this election," the CEC chairman said.
CEC executive director Kayla Igitol told Pacific Island Times that they cannot know who the absentee voters voted for. "Each absentee ballot has its own individual envelop. The commission members have to open each envelope individually and separate the absentee ballot from the envelope so we don't get to see who the voter voted for. Each affidavit was attached to the return envelope."
As for the delay in issuing the tabulation results of early voters, Kayla said, "It's because the tabulation machine was rejecting unclear marks on the ballots that it was detecting."
"Voters were either changing the way they voted, and the tabulation machine has detected it. So the ballot has to go back to the commission's table and look at it, verify it, and interpret what the voter was really intending to vote on," Igitol said. "It took some time as we also had to match each absentee request to their affidavit and the voter registration list."
As for the CNMI legislature, the Independents secured a majority by having 13 incoming elected representatives, with four Democrats, and three Republicans. The CNMI 23rd Senate will have four Republicans, three independents, and two Democrats.