CNMI SAYS AMERICANS DENIED RIGHT TO VOTE

By Jayvee L. Vallejera

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Sept. 29) - A veteran lawmaker from the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas has asked both national Republican and Democratic parties in Washington D.C. to urge the U.S. Attorney General to enforce the provision of two laws that would allow mainlanders in the Commonwealth to vote in U.S. general elections.

This comes soon after Rep. William S. Torres learned that the Commonwealth has been denied its share in a $1 million federal financial assistance made available under the Help America Vote Act of 2002 because the CNMI does not participate in the federal election process.

In a Sept. 25 letter to Republicans Abroad International Capitol Hill chairman Christopher Fussner and Democrats Abroad executive director Anne Tillema, Torres said there are over a thousand American citizens working throughout the CNMI who may have been denied the right to vote in federal elections.

Torres based his figure on the Census 2000 data, to include both civilians and members of the U.S. Uniformed Services and merchant marine.

"It is totally unacceptable that these Americans may have been deprived of their right to vote in federal offices for the simple reason that the CNMI does not receive HAVA funds to undertake such a fundamental principle of democracy," said Torres.

He pointed out that the right to vote in federal offices for members of the U.S. Uniformed Services and merchant marines and their family members and U.S. citizens residing outside the United States is found in 42 USC 1973ff, as amended by the National Defense Authorization Act of 2002 and the Help America Vote Act of 2002 that updated the Uniformed and Overseas Absentee Voting Act.

Torres said that Section 105 of the UOCAVA authorizes the U.S. Attorney General to bring civil actions to enforce the requirements of the Act through the Civil Rights Division.

"As chairman of the House Committee on United States and Foreign Affairs, I find the situation appalling and egregious that I seek your assistance in ensuring their right to vote in federal elections..Please see to it that this provision is swiftly enforced, and that HAVA funds are timely funneled to the CNMI in order to fully implement the intent of the Federal Voting Assistance Program," said the lawmaker.

"I look forward to your support in helping the Commonwealth help American citizens exercise their right to vote in America's newest territory, the CNMI," he added.

CNMI Council on Developmental Disabilities executive director Thomas J. Camacho had learned of the CNMI's exclusion from the HAVA funding after attending a presentation by U.S. Administration on Developmental Disabilities Commissioner Dr. Patricia Morrissey in Washington D.C. The US-ADD is one of the designated administering federal agency of HAVA.

Camacho said that CNMI officials, including Washington Rep. Pete A. Tenorio, are now looking into the matter and, if possible, are working toward a Congressional amendment to include the CNMI in the next round of funding cycle.

HAVA, also known as U.S. Public Law 207-22, makes no mention of the CNMI under its definition of "state," while American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands all are eligible to receive a guaranteed minimum payment of $1 million.

When Camacho asked Morrissey why the CNMI was shut out from the funding assistance, she explained that this is because the CNMI does not participate in the federal election process.

Section 103 of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 would have provided $1 million in federal funds to the Commonwealth Election Commission to upgrade technology used in casting votes in the federal election.

Section 261 of HAVA makes available payments to states and units of local government to assure access for individuals with disabilities such as making polling places accessible to individuals with disabilities, including persons with visual and hearing impairment, in a manner that provides the same opportunity for access and participation for other voters. It includes requirements by states to provide information to voters about accessible polling places and training of election officials, poll works, among others.

Section 291 of HAVA also allows payments to State Protection & Advocacy Systems in the amount of not less than $75,00 and $35,000 to ensure full participation in the electoral process for individuals with disabilities including registering to vote, casting a vote and accessing polling places. The Northern Marianas Protection & Advocacy Systems Inc. is the CNMI's state protection and advocacy systems eligible to received such funding.

September 30, 2003

Saipan Tribune: www.saipantribune.com

 

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