April 01, 2009

The Kaselehlie Press

Weno, Chuuk - The certified and announced results of the March 3 election for Chuuk State Governor have been called into question due to improprieties and discrepancies in the handling of the election. The run-off that was scheduled to take place on March 31 between incumbents Wesley Simina and Johnson Elimo, and candidates Gillian Doone and Ritis Heldard has been canceled.

Hearings at Chuuk State Supreme Court Appellate Division have already taken place on the issues and Kembo Mida, attorney for Redley Killion and Jonathan Salle rested his case on March 26.

In the face of a preponderance of evidence Chuuk's Attorney General offered the Appellants a stipulated judgment that met all of their demands and they accepted that offer. A revote will take place for the VAAPP Northern Namoneas polling place in Honolulu on April 1 (Hawaii Time). The revote will apply only to the gubernatorial election and not to the Legislative election and only for previously registered voters.

The Macheweichun ballot box from Hawaii will also be recounted. Afterwards the votes will be totaled to include the numbers from those two polling places and a runoff election will be held on April 9 (Chuuk Time) between whichever two candidates teams are determined to have the two highest vote totals at that time.

On March 8, Redley Killion and Jonathan Salle sent a letter to the Chuuk State Election Commission requesting, among other things a revote on the gubernatorial election at the Honolulu, Hawaii polling place for the Northern Namoneas. The Commission denied that request and gave five reasons for the denial:

Killion and Salle in their formal complaint to the Election Commission alleged many election improprieties in the Chuuk State Election. Ultimately they brought to the Chuuk State Supreme Court only the request for a revote at the VAAPP Northern Namoneas polling place in Hawaii, a request for a recount of the Macheweichun ballot box from Hawaii, and an injunction restraining the Election Commission from conducting a runoff in the election.

The Supreme Court Appellate Division granted the Appellants' request for a temporary restraining order on the runoff election that had been scheduled for March 31. Employees of the Election Commission had been scheduled to leave Chuuk no later than March 27th to coordinate the runoff at out of state polling places.

On March 8, Sinchy Louis, allegedly the Chairman of the Tabulating Committee of the Election Commission submitted a signed document stating that he solemnly swore that the election results of the March 2 (Hawaii Time) election were true to the best of his knowledge. He reported that Killion and Salle had garnered 191 votes.

When the final result was certified and released it stated that Killion and Salle had only received 130 votes from that polling place: a difference of 61 votes from Louis' sworn statement.

On Tuesday, March 24, during trial, Mida asked the court to allow him to have the tabulation list for Macheweichun. The court granted him that opportunity and the "original" documents were supplied to him by the Attorney General's Office.

Mida called Evangelina Paul, an employee of the Election Commission, to the stand as a witness on Thursday, March 26. . She was the only one to call the election results into the Election Commission office from Honolulu, Hawaii and the official tabulation sheets were given to her in Hawaii by Petewon.

While on the stand she was given the official tabulation sheets which had been recorded with a pencil. She was the only person to bring the tabulation sheets back to the Election Commission. While on the witness stand Paul was given the "original" tabulation sheets for Macheweichun. She was asked if the tabulation sheets she brought from Honolulu, Hawaii were done in pen or pencil. Paul answered that she witnessed that the tabulating sheets that she delivered to the Chuuk Election Commission given her by Commissioner Petewon in Honolulu, Hawaii had been written in ink and not pencil.

The tabulating sheets for Macheweichun that had been provided to Mida were not the originals that were read in Hawaii as the original results. Furthermore, the tabulating sheet done in pencil showed several irregularities.

As examples of those irregularities, the tabulation sheets provided to Mida listed Marius Akapito with a total of 199 votes but when the boxes marked off for each voter were counted and totaled there were only 130. The official results credited him with 199 votes. 69 votes were unaccountably added. Francis Tipeno had a total of 99 votes but when the number of boxes was counted and totaled there were only 89. 10 votes were unaccountably added. The official result for Charlie Hallers showed that he had a total of 125 votes but when the number of boxes was counted and totaled there were only 114. 11 votes were unaccountably added. Official results showed that Jackson Irons had a total of 41 votes but when the boxes were counted and totaled there were only 38. 3 votes were unaccountably added.

Shortly after the testimony, the Attorney General's Office offered to stipulate. A stipulated judgment was entered by the court. The Macheweichun box will be recounted. The revote at the Northern Namoneas polling place in Honolulu will occur on April 1, 2009 (Hawaii Time). The run-off will occur on April 9, 2009 (Chuuk Time).

The revote only applies to the Governor and Lt. Governor race, for Northern Namoneas in Honolulu, Hawaii for those who already registered for the March 3, 2009 election.

Those being sent to conduct the revote were agreed upon by the Appellants and Appellees. Finally, Appellants agreed to dismiss its claims and the reliefs they requested.

The problems that ultimately occurred with the election were foreshadowed when the Chuuk Attorney General issued a legal opinion saying that the Commissioners were to be impartial and that they should not directly participate in the election process. The opinion said "The actual conduct of the elections by the Commissioners themselves will definitely result in a conflict of interest especially so when an election protest arise(s) in the area where a certain Commissioner is assigned to conduct or supervise an election."

And that is exactly what happened. The Commissioners themselves participated in the process of the election and there was a problem at the Northern Namoneas polling place in Hawaii.

When Open Walter walked into the polling place in Honolulu he apparently expected to vote. It's not clear whether or not he had registered to vote in the election but apparently he thought he had because when it was found that his name was not one of the 1088 names on the voter roster he became angry, picked up the ballot box and threw it on the ground. When the Honolulu Police arrived they found no cause for arrest and left.

Not long after, Open's son, Oter Walter returned and began arguing heatedly with Commissioner Rufus Petewon about the same issue.

Sometime between 10:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. Petewon unilaterally decided as a result of the confrontations, to close the polling place. The ballots from that polling place were determined to be "spoiled" and were not counted in the election. 100 to 150 of the 1088 voters in the area had submitted their ballots before the poll was closed.

It was just this kind of event that the Chuuk Attorney General was trying to help the Election Commission to avoid when he issued his legal opinion. According to the law, Petewon, who wasn't supposed to be in charge of the election at the Northern Namoneas election in Hawaii in the first place, was required by law to communicate the situation directly with Director Yasen Herry who was the only person vested with the power to close polling places.

Petewon was also required by law, if the ballot box was lost or destroyed to "make an affidavit setting forth the facts, and transmit same to the Chairman of the Election Commission." Petewon didn't do that.

In a sworn deposition Herry said that he would have advised Petewon to call the Honolulu Police again and would not have closed the polling place based on the events there.

Petewon was one of the Commissioners who denied Killion and Salle's complaint.

In a formal sworn deposition Mida asked Petewon if he thought that it was a conflict of interest that he was a Commissioner who was required to rule on Killion and Salle's complaint about the early closing of the polls in Hawaii when he was the person who closed the polls several hours early. "Wouldn't you think that that is a conflict of interest," he asked?

"No," answered Petewon.

"Can you explain that please? Why would you say it's not," Mida asked?

Petewon, "Well, because we have to tell exactly what happen. And its' a first witness that is reporting for what actually happened to that-for whatever happen anywhere. So, we'll make a decision not because of anything-but we always come up with a decision because that's exactly what we decide it's correct for that given situation."

Petewon, in the same deposition said that he knew about the Attorney General's legal opinion on direct involvement of Commissioners. "I- when we got this paper [AG's opinion] and we discuss over head, and we decided that we just have to go."

Director Kerry was also deposed.

Mida questioned, "Did any one from-did you or anyone from your office or any other office warn the commissioners that they were not supposed to be conducting these elections?"

Kerry: "For me not once. I never talk to them, because they have the opinion with them, but…"

Mida: "So…"

Kerry: "I make recommendations, but sometimes they change and put their names back to the-where the polling place are like Hawaii."

Commission employee Evangelina Paul was at the Northern Namoneas polling place in Hawaii and said in her sworn deposition that to the best of her knowledge none of the ballots came out of the box after Open Walter threw it on the floor. According to her deposition the box had not been smashed as has been previously reported. She said that there was an opening in the box approximately one inch wide where the box was nailed together but that she saw none of the ballots come out of the box.

The result of the election may end up being the same after the revote and recount. It may still be that voters will choose between the team of Simina-Elimo versus the team of Doone-Heldard. It could be that the revote and recount in Hawaii may change which candidates will be involved in the runoff. That decision is in the hands of the voters but at least the voices and choices of the voters at the Northern Namoneas polling place and the actual voices of voters who already voted at the Macheweichun polling place will be heard because of the stipulated agreement on Killion-Salle's appeal to the Chuuk Supreme Court.