Former Residents Of U.S. States Could Lose Right To Vote In CNMI

Marianas left out of law targetting residents of U.S. territories

By Erwin Encinares

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Oct. 10, 2017) – Did you know that, if you live in the Northern Mariana Islands but used to live in a state in the U.S. mainland, you have a right to vote for President by absentee ballot? It now appears that the administration of U.S. President Donald J. Trump is planning to strip previous state residents of this ability—which Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) opposes, saying every citizen has a right to vote.

According to the Uniformed Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, or UOCAVA, U.S. citizens that were previously residents of a state and are currently residing in the CNMI are allowed to cast an absentee vote.

UOCAVA states that a U.S. citizen residing in any part of the world—including the international space station—retain their right to vote in the federal election. However, that law does not extend to citizens residing in the four U.S. territories of Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

According to Sablan, he believes the reason the CNMI was left out was because during the enactment of the law sometime in the 1990s, the CNMI did not have a member in the U.S. Congress.

“… U.S. citizens residing in the Northern Marianas were allowed to vote in federal elections, just as those residing in Israel. Among the territories, overseas Americans residing in the Northern Marianas were allowed to vote under the UOCAVA,” said Sablan.

The U.S. Department of Justice is now reviewing this law, with the intent to reverse this voting privilege.

A letter sent from the USDOJ to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit cited the Sessions v Morales-Santana case, which the U.S. Supreme Court defended a provision in the Immigration and Nationality Act, extending citizenship to certain children with one U.S. citizen parent. The letter was dated Sept. 11, 2017, and was signed by USDOJ Attorney Carleen Zubrzycki.

“… The proper remedy for an equal protection violation consisting of favorable treatment for a discrete group was to eliminate the favorable treatment for that group, rather than expanding more favorable treatment to everyone,” the letter states, specifying that the Seventh Circuit held this as a remedy to the Sessions v Morales-Santana case.

The letter concluded that with the UOCAVA, considering the logic of the Sessions v Morales-Santana case, the best course of action was to dissolve the voting privilege of previous state residents currently residing in the CNMI, rather than to expand the privileges to the four other U.S. territories.

“Under the logic of Sessions v Morales-Santana, if that were an equal protection violation, the proper remedy would be to treat [the] CNMI like the four major territories that the [U.S.] Congress expressly addressed in the [UOCAVA],” the letter reads.

“As a former election official, I promoted this right for U.S. citizens residing in the Northern Marianas and encouraged overseas Americans to vote in federal elections. While the turnout is usually not very high, it has been reported that had the State of Florida allowed counting of ballots mailed by Nov. 26, Al Gore would have won the state and then would have been elected President,” said Sablan.

Gore was the Democratic candidate for the presidency back in 2000. He lost to George W. Bush.

“The number of voters overseas continues to grow. I am not sure about the GOP, but the National Democratic Party has overseas American delegates at their conventions. They cast nomination votes for presidential candidates,” said Sablan.

Sablan believes the worry of Attorney General Jeffrey Sessions is that “overseas Americans” represent a bloc of more liberal voters and thus could be a deciding factor in the election of presidential candidates.”

“I disagree with this because I believe every citizen has a right to vote,” said Sablan.

Saipan Tribune
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