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Attack ads by supporters of ruling Covenant Party criticized

By Emmanuel T. Erediano SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Oct. 29, 2010) - Two of the four candidates for congressional delegate yesterday filed separate complaints regarding an attack ad and possible irregularities in the early voting period.

Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan, an Independent, said the advertisements claiming that he had lied to the public were in violation of CNMI Election Law which prohibits "publications intended to defeat a candidate by reflecting his or her personal character or political actions without proper identification" of those who placed the ads.

"These statements," Sablan said, "are untrue," referring to the ads.

Although the election law does not prohibit the publication of untrue statements those responsible for them should identify themselves, he added.

Sablan, a former election commission executive director, said those who placed the ads must provide the names of the chairman and secretary or the names of two officers of the political party or organization responsible for the ads.

Sablan asked the election commission to "expeditiously" investigate the matter.

Variety learned that the ads were placed by supporters of the ruling Covenant Party.

Democratic candidate Jesus C. Borja, for his part, asked Election Commission Executive Director Robert Guerrero to look into possible irregularities during the early voting period.

In his letter to Guerrero, the former lt. governor and associate justice said he and many others noted an "unexpectedly" large number of voters taking advantage of the early voting period as provided by Public Law 17-16.

Over 1,000 cast their ballots during the early voting period that started on Oct. 22.

The CNMI has over 16,000 registered voters.

Borja said "given the possibility and even likelihood that some, if not many, of the persons who have already voted may not meet the statutorily defined criteria for early voting, it is imperative that the [commission] notify the candidates and the general public about how the election commission intends to identify, process and remedy possible improperly cast early votes. "

Borja said the election commission may call a meeting with all the candidates present, and other appropriate government agencies, to inform the candidates of its intentions.

The candidates and general public, Borja said, must receive a notification as quickly as possible.

"Without it, the results of this election may rightfully be called into question," he added.

He said the candidates and the public need to know "if it is the commission’s intention to void all ballots found to be not in compliance with the law."

Borja also wants to know whether the election commission would allow to vote on Nov. 2, those who are found to have innocently relied on incorrect advice from either election commission staff or other people.

Gov. Benigno R. Fitial yesterday said he vetoed the early voting measure, P.L. 17-16, because he foresaw these irregularities.

He said in an email that his administration was aware of the "flurry of issues" surrounding the early voting period.

Now that there seems to be "public clamor" against the new election rules, the members of the Senate and House of Representatives who overrode his veto of the measure have "remained mum" about its deficiencies.

In his veto message, Fitial warned, "this measure cannot be approved because [its] Section 26 allows for any registered voter to vote early during the 10-day period prior to the election. What this effectively does is create an 11-day voting period where there are no criteria that a registered voter must meet to take advantage of the early voting period."

Fitial said "the safeguards and protections that are offered registered voters on the day of the election are not offered to the voters during the 10-day early voting,"

The implementation of this measure, Fitial added, "would allow for voter intimidation, fraud, and would increase the cost of the election."

Fitial, in his email, said at the beginning of the early voting period, concerns were already being raised regarding alleged improprieties.

He said the most recent complaint involved a Republican supporter who was reported to have been outside of the election office urging voters in the vernacular to vote for a specific candidate.

"I foresaw many issues with the provision that would allow for early voting. This is a process common in the [U.S.] because they need to accommodate millions of voters. I simply did not understand why the Senate amendment to establish an early voting period was necessary for an island community with less than 20,000 registered voters," Fitial said.

"The members of the Legislature who supported the bill and, more importantly, those who orchestrated and supported the override of my veto should now step forward and explain their actions to the public," he added.

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