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By Aenet Rowa

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Yokwe, Dec. 5) – Republic of the Marshall Islands election officials completed counting of the postal votes yesterday, but only one-half were declared valid.

According to a source in the nation's capital, 605 of the 1,239 postal ballots were damaged due to late postmarks, taped or opened envelopes, and questions about handwriting.

Consideration of challenge votes began after midnight Thursday morning, and was delayed even further when two extra ballots appeared without name or atoll.

Although not challenged by the opposition, 120 votes from box two—from the Rita voting station—were challenged by the Electoral Office. Apparently, these ballots are for those who are without identification, but whose names were on the ward list.

The Republic of the Marshall Islands Electoral Office, in turn, has been challenged by election observers for its lack of preparation and management of election and post-election activities.

It's handling of postal ballots, which play a vital role in the small nation's election, has also been criticized.

Postal ballots are those votes received from Republic of the Marshall Islands citizens who reside overseas, mostly in the United States.

There are over 15,000 citizens living abroad.

This was the first year postal voters had to request postal ballots, which were to be sent to them by the Republic of the Marshall Islands Electoral Office.

Some postal voters have complained that they did not receive their ballots from the Electoral Office in time to meet the November 17 postmark deadline, while some never received their requested ballots.

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