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By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Sept. 29) – For the first time in Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas history, residents who have lived on the U.S. mainland can vote in federal elections.

This means that many CNMI residents, because they are American citizens, can help elect the next United States president.

The announcement comes barely a month before the U.S. presidential elections set for Nov. 2.

Yesterday, Commonwealth Election Commission executive director Gregorio Sablan and the Attorney General’s Office said a federal law called the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act allows the participation in federal elections of U.S. citizens who live abroad.

These U.S. citizens are termed "overseas voters" by the said law.

Under said law, CNMI residents who have lived on the U.S. mainland may vote in the federal election in the state where they last lived.

Some states allow U.S. citizens who have never lived on the mainland to vote in the state where their parents were last registered, or where their parents last lived.

Sablan, who was among the guest speakers at yesterday’s Rotary Club of Saipan meeting at Hyatt Regency, urged eligible U.S. citizens in the CNMI to request a federal overseas ballot "soon" as "time is running out."

Assistant Attorney General Arin Greenwood said this might have been a "right" that some local residents and U.S. citizens have not seen before.

Sablan said when the time comes that the CNMI already has a delegate in the U.S. Congress, American citizens here may no longer be called "overseas voters."

"For the first time, we can actually vote for the next president. This is a rare opportunity. It’s the first time and could be the last time," he told Rotary Club members and guests.

He said other U.S. territories like Guam, American Samoa and Puerto Rico are not covered by the overseas voting law.

"It is the Commonwealth Election Commission’s policy to allow all voters who are eligible to vote in both the CNMI and in federal elections to exercise their rights to vote in both (federal and local) elections," Sablan said.

He added, "It also means that CNMI residents who were born in the Commonwealth and are U.S. citizens may be able to vote in the federal election, even though the CNMI itself does not participate in the federal election," he added.

U.S. citizens in the CNMI can vote in the federal elections "without losing their right to vote in the Commonwealth elections," said CEC.

Assistant AG Jay Livingstone said the federal law on overseas voting "doesn’t appear" to result in additional taxes.

Alex Sablan, a Rotary Club member and president of the Saipan Chamber of Commerce, said this is a perfect opportunity for eligible individuals to take advantage of the so-called "loophole" in the federal law wherein they can vote in the U.S. elections without having to worry about tax implications.

He added, "It’s good that the Office of the Governor found this loophole."

The CEC, Office of the Governor and Attorney General’s Office are working together to make residents aware of the possibility of participating in the federal elections.

Adam Turner of the Office of the Governor said, to be able to vote for the next U.S. president and vice president, one must have resided in another state.

"If you have been registered to vote in the U.S. or resided in the U.S., you must apply for a federal ballot," said Turner.

The voter must request a federal overseas ballot from the local election official where they have resided or registered to vote.

While eligible voters in the CNMI may be running out of time, they may fax the ballot request.

September 29, 2004

Marianas Variety: www.mvariety.com

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