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By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, Jan. 20) — Two months after the Marshall Islands national election last November, a recount has broken a tie vote for parliament, giving incumbent Sen. Christopher Loeak the win by a single vote, the Chief Electoral Officer said Monday.

The Ailinglaplap Atoll election deadlock was broken after a nearly two week recount that was delayed when it was discovered that a ballot box with three ballots had not been sent in immediately after the election from a remote outer island and the island receives only bi-monthly air service.

Loeak and challenger Katzuo Katjang had been tied at 544-all after the initial count, the first-ever tie result for a parliamentary election in seven national elections since independence.

Under Marshall Islands election law, when an election results in a tie, the winner is decided by drawing straws. The only previous time the straw-draw has occurred was in a 1994 election for a constitutional convention.

The reelection of Loeak, a leading member of the opposition Ailin Kein Ad (Our Islands) party, gives President Kessai Note’s ruling United Democratic Party a 20-13 majority in the 33-seat parliament.

It was the decision to accept four "claim" votes that had originally been rejected by Chief Electoral Officer Hemly Benjamin and two other tally corrections, that gave Loeak the slim margin of victory, 550-549. The final unofficial result has been announced but will not be official until next week, when the deadline for filing petitions for a recount expires.

Assistant Attorney General Posesi Bloomfield said late last week that he had advised Benjamin to accept the "claim" votes from Ailinglaplap.

They were originally rejected because the electoral officer on Ailinglaplap did not properly place the ballot envelope inside a covering envelope and attach an affidavit from the claim voters, which is the accepted practice for verifying this type of vote. In the Marshall Islands, if a vote’s name is not found on the registered voters list at a polling station, but the voter claims to have voted in the previous election, their vote is taken as a "claim" vote, put with an affidavit and set aside for later verification by the electoral office.

"It’s not their fault the election officer didn’t fill out affidavits," Bloomfield said. "All have the right to vote. Their names were on the master list and they should be counted."

He said there was no question about the source of the votes, as the electoral officer reported these three votes as claim votes back in November, and their names were located on the master list of registered voters, he said.

January 20, 2004

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