Judge Dismisses Marshall Islands Election Complaints

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Unsuccessful candidates did not follow proper procedures

By Giff Johnson

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Dec. 3, 2012) – Eleven months after an election dispute was filed in the Marshall Islands High Court, Judge James Plasman dismissed the complaint saying the three losing candidates did not exhaust administrative remedies provided under the law. The court ruling points out numerous errors made by the three candidates in their filing of the complaints to the chief electoral officer and the High Court that caused the dismissal.

Losing parliament candidates Amenta Matthew and Gerald Zackios and losing mayoral candidate Eldon Note filed the complaint seeking court action to void hundreds of postal absentee ballots from Marshall Islanders living in the United States that they said were not properly certified, and which tipped the elections in each of the three races in their opponents’ favor.

Judge Plasman ruled that "a legal controversy exists" over the postal ballots from the November 21, 2011 national election, but because "petitioners failed to follow and exhaust the remedies under the Elections and Referenda Act of 1980" the underlying issue concerning the legality of the postal ballots could not be considered by the court. "The matter must be dismissed," said Plasman because the candidates did not follow procedures outlined in the law.

Among numerous defects in the election complaint, Plasman said, "Nowhere in the complaint do petitioners identify their legal interests that have been harmed." There was no mention in their December petition that they lost the 2011 election. Without this, there was no way for the court to know how they were harmed by the alleged actions of the chief election officer. It wasn’t until 10 months later, on October 5 this year that they filed a supplemental motion and included a copy of the "Declaration of Final Results" from the 2011 election issued in December 2011. "The Declaration, as filed, reveals that the petitioners lost the elections," Plasman said. "Based upon that, the petitioners have established a legal interest that could have been harmed by the actions of the chief electoral officer."

Zackios failed to file his petition for a recount within the two-week period after the announcement of the unofficial results as required by law. His petitions to CEO Joseph Jorlang were filed several days before the unofficial election results were issued on December 12, 2011. "It was not filed ‘within two weeks after’ the announcement of unofficial results on December 12, 2011," Plasman said. "Failure to meet the condition for timely filing invalidates the petition for recount," Plasman said. "There was nothing before the CEO for him to reject. There was no rejection from which to appeal. The petitioner failed to properly pursue his complaint of alleged irregularities through the statutory process for a petition for recount."

Both Matthew and Note failed to support their petitions to the CEO with an affidavit from themselves, which the law requires. "Failure to meet the condition invalidates the petition for recount," he said.

"The petitioners failed to comply with the statutory requirements for filing their respective petitions for recount with the CEO," he said. "Because the matter is resolved on this basis, the court does not reach…petitioners’ underlying complaint….The action must be dismissed."

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