March 25, 2013

By Bill Jaynes
The Kaselehlie Press

March 21, 2013 Pohnpei, FSM - Ferny Perman, who ran for FSM Congress against incumbent Dohsis Halbert in Pohnpei's Election District One has filed a petition for a revote and recount based on several allegations that the election was not properly conducted. His petition was supported by four sworn affidavits from election workers and one from an employee of Nihco print shop who swore that on Election Day he filled an order for 200 additional ballots.

According to the election results certified by the National Election Office, Perman lost the election by 218 votes. Halbert garnered 2,489 votes while Perman received 2,271 votes according the ballot box counts.

A total of 4,771 votes were cast in Election District One. Eleven of the votes were "write-in votes".

None of Perman's allegations accused his opponent of wrongdoing.

Perman's petition says that the law requires all ballots to have been printed no later than 50 days before a general election or 35 day before a special election. He included an affidavit from an employee of Nihco print shop who said that he printed 200 additional ballots on Election Day and that the ballots were picked up at 2:00 in the afternoon.

He claims that the Pohnpei Election Commissioner admitted in correspondence that the polling places in Sekere and Lewetik both requested additional ballots.

Perman's petition also says that on the evening before Election Day a tabulator at the Nanmal Palikir polling place discovered that the Election Board Chairperson had opened the ballot box with no one else present. In her affidavit the tabulator reported that she discovered on Election Day that the ballot box contained 50 additional ballots.

The affidavit of the Election Board Chairperson for the Roie polling place said that when she delivered a ballot to a homebound woman the poll worker discovered that the ballot had already been marked next to candidate Halbert's name. She erased the mark and gave it to the woman so that the voter could cast her vote. When the poll worker returned to the Roie polling place she saw a voter who was holding five separate ballots in his hand. She confiscated all but one ballot and discovered that the four ballots she confiscated were marked next to Halbert's name. Erasing the marks, she put the extra ballots back with the supply of ballots.

Albert Welly, the Director of the FSM National Election office said in his response to Perman's petition that FSM law requires that the winning candidate must be allowed seven days to respond to a petitioner's allegations. Until today Perman had been operating on the assumption that those seven days began on the date of Welly's letter which also said that his office had informed Halbert and had hand delivered a copy of Perman's petition to Halbert. But Welly told The Kaselehlie Press today that he didn't start counting the seven days that Halbert had to respond to the petition until the 20th of March.

"I don't know if it's right or not," Welly said, "but candidates have seven days after we call the election to file any petition. Then the winning candidate has another seven days to respond." He said that he "called the election", meaning that his office certified the results of the election, on the 14th of March. His interpretation of the law is that Senator Halbert has until the 27th of March to file a response to Perman's petition.

Senator Halbert has not yet filed any response to the petition and has been off island since last week. At press time he had not yet returned and was unavailable for comment.

Marstella Jack, Attorney for Perman said that if Senator Halbert does not respond to the allegations he waives his right to do so. She said that according to the law, the National Election Office would then have to consider the petition without Halbert's response. What will happen at the National Election Office is unclear but Perman said that if he doesn't have a response by the end of Friday, March 22 he will file a civil action at the FSM Supreme Court.

Because Perman's allegations include the possibility that ballot boxes may havembeen stuffed with extra ballots he said that he made a formal request for a copy of the signature sheets for the polling places. He said that Mr. Welly told him that he could not have a copy of those signature sheets without a court order.

Mr. Welly said that he requested legal representation for the National Election Office from the FSM Department of Justice but Secretary April Skilling informed him that it would be a conflict of interest for the AG's office to represent the Election Office.

Secretary Skilling was out of the office when we called for an explanation of that legal opinion and did not return our phone call before deadline time.

Mr. Welly said that his office was forced to use its scant budget in order to hire a private attorney to represent them and to give them guidance on the matter. They hired attorney Joe Phillip.

Mr. Welly neither confirmed nor denied whether any of the Perman's allegations were true. He said instead that he felt that it would be important to consult the Election Office's attorney before saying anything further about the situation.