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To require candidates to live on island is illegal

By Giff Johnson MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, Oct. 26, 2011) - Objections to many nonresident candidates standing for local government posts in the Marshall Islands November election have been eliminated by a legal opinion of the attorney general issued Friday.

Acting Attorney General Tubosoye Brown declared that local government constitutions requiring candidates to live on the islands they are running from are illegal.

The opinion by Brown was issued to Chief Electoral Officer Joseph Jorlang in response to a series of challenges various incumbent local government mayors and council representatives have filed with Electoral regarding candidates in next month’s election.

Brown pointed out that several local government constitutions require that people must reside on the islands to be eligible to run in an election. These provisions, said Brown, "are unconstitutional, unlawful, invalid and void."

He said these provisions "infringe on the constitutionally guaranteed right of citizens to participate in the electoral process as voters or candidates for office."

Brown said these local constitutional residency requirements are illegal because they violate the Constitution, the Elections and Referenda Act and the Local Government Act.

While the Local Government Act empowers local governments to write their own constitutions and pass ordinances, it specifically requires than these be "not inconsistent" with the Marshall Islands Constitution and national government laws.

"When the provisions of local government laws fail to pass this test of consistency, such provisions — like the residency provisions in their constitutions — are unlawful, invalid and void," Brown said in his three-page legal opinion.

The election law qualifies a person to run for office in a local government jurisdiction if they are a registered voter. "If a person qualifies as a voter within a local government area, and has been registered as such, that person is eligible to contest an election within that local government area," Brown said. "In other words, a candidate’s qualification to contest election in a local government area is solely dependent on whether he possesses the qualification to be a registered voter there and has actually been registered there to vote."

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