Guam Election Commission Holds Off Action Over New Law

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Legal counsel says audit meant to find errors, not conduct recount

By Joy White

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Marianas Variety Guam, Jan. 4, 2013) – The Guam Election Commission (GEC) has not yet decided upon an official course of action to meet the mandates required by the new Election Reform Law.

Last night, the commissioners picked apart the sections of the new law that requires the commission to audit the ballot stock and evaluate absentee and provisional ballots from the 2010 and 2012 elections.

Attorney Jeffrey Cook, GEC legal counsel, presented his legal opinion to the commission, saying a sample hand-count should be conducted and that GEC be free of negative consequences should they miss the deadlines.

Cook suggested 5 percent of the precincts be counted and compared to the 2010 certified results. This should be sufficient, he stated, because if the Legislature intended a recount, they would have directly used the term "recount."

In his opinion, Cook also suggested that the audit is meant to find any errors and make recommendations that will improve future elections, while a recount would alter the results.

GEC member Christopher Carillo further suggested that any problem precincts should be recounted.

Martha Ruth pointed out that a recount was conducted following the 2010 election and the report could also be presented to the Legislature.

Cook also assured there is no statutory consequence for not meeting the deadline, but he suggested that the commission should keep records of the process. He pointed out there is no budget set aside for the audits to be conducted and that the work should be done during regular working hours without expending additional resources.

Cook stated, "There doesn’t really seem to be a statutory consequence in the new law other than an old section that talks about basically if the commission intentionally or willfully violates any provision of the law, then you could be guilty of a misdemeanor."

Ballot stock

For her part, GEC Executive Director Maria Pangelinan stated that ballot stock inventory for 2012 could theoretically be recreated from invoices because the invoices state the amount of ballots ordered. In addition, damaged ballots were kept and recorded.Progress was stalled during the discussion of the second section in question regarding the audit of provisional ballots.

According to the legal counsel’s opinion, the new law mandates GEC to review a list of purged voters. If there are any voters who were not notified, their votes should be counted. However, by law, provisional ballots are sealed in an envelope and cannot be opened and in order to count the provisional ballots, they must be opened.

Patrick Civille said an old section provides that the provisional ballots cannot be unsealed unless for a recount. He also said this section has been moved under the law and that the language was changed to provide for an audit.

The commission then asked its legal counsel to review this portion of the Election Reform Law for further clarification. GEC will meet again Wednesday, Jan. 9 to determine its course of action.

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