Low Voter Turnout Impacts Marshalls’ Election Results

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Off-island vote not decisive, victories by wide margin common

By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, Dec. 11, 2015) – Fewer than half of the registered voters turned out to vote in the November 16 national election in the Marshall Islands, while the impact of the substantial off-shore population was minimal, Electoral Administration voting data shows.

According to the Electoral Administration, 20,442 voters — 46 percent — out of 44,588 registered cast their votes in last month’s election.

A number of candidates and election observers report that they saw names on the master voting list of Marshallese who are deceased, meaning the number of registered voters may be inflated over the actual.

Electoral data from the November 16 election show that voter turnout ranged from a low of 33 percent for Mili Atoll (593 of 1,780 voters cast votes) to a high of 62 percent at Namu (829 of 1,330).

Meanwhile, postal absentee ballots, which many thought would affect more than the two parliament contests impacted in the 2011 election because of the large Marshall Islands population living in the United States, ended up affecting only one parliament race: Ujae. Fewer than half of the 4,600 postal absentee ballots that the Electoral Administration said were mailed out to voters living outside the country arrived in time to be counted.

Parliament races showed relatively wide margins of victory for candidates. In all but the Ujae case, domestic votes were enough for candidates to win and withstand higher postal ballot numbers for their opponents.

At Ujae, Micronesian Games gold medal winning wrestler Waylon Muller held a four-vote lead over former Marshall Islands Attorney General Atbi Riklon based on the domestic vote. But Riklon grabbed 40 of the 42 Ujae postal votes to win going away, 109 to 74 over Muller.

The postals did affect some mayor races, including the Bikini local government race. Lani Kramer was ahead in domestic voting over Anderson Jibas 216 to 174 in her bid to become Bikini’s first female mayor. But Jibas picked up 116 of Bikini’s 243 postal votes, the most of any of the seven mayoral candidates, to win over Kramer, 290 to 261.

The mayor’s contest at Mejit Island has resulted in a tie. Robert Rilang was leading Neal Keju 140 to 119 after domestic tabulation, but Keju grabbed 28 of Mejit’s 54 postal votes in the seven-man mayor’s race to cause a 147-all tie. According to Marshall Islands election rules, tie votes are decided by a drawing of straws.

Former Majuro Councilman Ladie Jack’s upset of incumbent Majuro Mayor Mudge Samuel held up despite Samuel beating him on postals, 140-113. Jack’s winning margin was over 150 votes, 2,285 to 2,132.

While 4,671 postal ballots were mailed out to offshore Marshallese voters, only 2,006 made it back by the November 30 deadline, and about six percent of these — were rejected. Ultimately 1,880 postal votes were tabulated, according to the Electoral Administration.

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