BALLOT COUNT AT SNAIL’S PACE IN MARSHALLS

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By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, Nov. 22) – The preliminary results of the Marshall Islands national election are not expected for days, with counting proceeding at a snail’s pace following a disorganized and complaint-ridden voting day Monday.

The last polling stations did not close until nearly 5 a.m. Tuesday after the government issued an emergency decree that most polling locations stay open well beyond the usual 7 p.m. closing because they were so late opening on voting day.

Electoral chief Carl Alik announced that ballot counting for Majuro would start at 9 a.m. Tuesday. But the first of about 30 boxes with an estimated 10,000 ballots was not opened until 11:30 a.m., and actual counting of the first 33 ballots out of 310 in the box did not start until after 5 p.m., Tuesday.

"It took until 7:30 p.m. to count just 33 ballots from one atoll," said Carmen Bigler, president of the national women’s group Women United Together Marshall Islands. "At that rate, it will take weeks to get a result."

Many of the hundreds of people monitoring the count for candidates expressed consternation at the fact that only one table of Electoral officials was counting ballots from the first box.

A group from the Pacific Islands Forum is observing this election, and is expected to issue a detailed report on their findings with recommendations for improvements for the next election.

Reports from Ebeye Island, the country’s second major urban center, and from many of the outer islands indicated that voting and counting has proceeded relatively smoothly in those locations.

Numerous irregularities from Monday’s vote are being reported, including voters being told to write their names on the envelopes containing ballots, a violation of secret voting procedures. Local businessman Jerry Kramer said that although his name was properly on the registration listing at his polling station, he was instructed by poll officials to put his ballot inside an envelope and write his name on the outside. No official complaints have yet been filed by candidates.

Some outer islands ran out of ballots during Monday’s voting, and were instructed late Monday by the Electoral Administration to make electronic or hand written copies, with the requirement that electoral officials sign these copied ballots to ensure their eligibility.

Outer atolls had only just begun reporting preliminary results late Tuesday night.

In one unexpected result, voters on President Kessai Note’s home island of Jabat voted for his opponent Abo Loeak by an 18-5 margin. But these 23 votes on the island that has fewer than 100 residents represent less than 10 percent of the total registered voters from Jabot, the majority of whom live in Majuro and Ebeye.

Marianas Variety: www.mvariety.com

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