By Troy Torres
Gov. Ralph Torres and his administration's loudest defense against corruption allegations against him is his posted landslide victory in the 2018 general elections, including the victories of Republican mayors in Rota and Tinian.
But according to information released by the Office of the Public Auditor in an audit of the 2018 elections, the inability to account for the ballots ordered for the entire Commonwealth and the ballots issued to the northern island, Tinian, and Rota casts a shadow on the governor's race and the races of mayor in Tinian and Rota.
According to the audit, "[P]oll supervisors are required to account for the ballots distributed and returned. The sum of unused ballots, official ballots cast, and spoiled ballots should equal the number of ballots distributed and returned."
But that didn't happen everywhere throughout the election and during the early voting period.
"OPA found that CEC did not have an accounting of ballots used during the early voting period. Therefore, CEC could not provide documentation showing the number of ballots available, used, and unused during the early voting period," the audit states.
In the 2018 governor's race between Mr. Torres and former Gov. Juan Babauta, the CEC, which is headed by the governor's aunt, Julita Villagomez, reported that 2,231 absentee ballots were cast and counted. Elizabeth Rauline, a Washington state resident of NMI descent told Kandit News that prior to the election Mr. Torres approached her at a baseball tournament in Washington to cast an illegal absentee ballot for him. He told Ms. Rauline to see Ms. Villagomez, who was present at the tournament and who would facilitate the illegal vote.
Others who have spoken to Kandit on condition of anonymity have told us similar stories of voter fraud through the absentee ballot process facilitated by Ms. Villagomez on behalf of the governor.
"Furthermore, OPA also found that CEC did not have documentation indicating the total number of absentee ballots received, accepted, and rejected on election day," the audit states.
Even if the absentee ballots alone were tainted, that would have not been enough to change the results of the gubernatorial election, which separated the two teams by 3,502 votes.
But that's not where the discrepancies end.
"Although CEC requires poll workers to complete ballot inventory sheets on election day, CEC was not able to provide ballot inventory sheets for precincts 4D, 6, and 7," the OPA report states. "Of the 13 ballot inventory sheets that were provided to OPA, CEC failed to acknowledge two ballot inventory sheets and it is unknown if CEC reviewed and investigated for anomalies."
Precinct 4D encompasses the northern islands and accounts for 138 votes cast in the gubernatorial election. Precinct 6 is the entire island of Tinian, and accounts for 964 votes cast in the race for governor; 982 votes in the race for mayor. Precinct 7 is Rota. In the governor's race, CEC reports that 1,043 votes were cast; 1,065 in the race for mayor there.
In the race for governor, based on the inventory discrepancies in these three precincts and with absentee ballots, a cloud hovers over the 4,297 votes cast; more than enough to affect the outcome of the election.
But it doesn't stop there.
"The documents provided for OPA's review indicated a total of 23,600 ballots available for distribution. However, the contract between CEC and the vendor showed that CEC ordered a total of 22,000 ballots. CEC could not provide documentation to show the excess number received," according to the OPA audit.
There were 1,600 ballots that were available for distribution, even though only 22,000 ballots were ordered. Where did the ballots come from, and where did they end up?
"According to CEC, an initial quantity of 1,600 blank ballots were hand carried to the CNMI in preparation for absentee requests and the Northern Islands early voting," the audit states.
In total, a cloud is cast on 5,897 votes cast in the gubernatorial election and the votes cast in the elections in the Northern Islands, Tinian, and Rota. The total votes cast in the race for governor was 14,349, meaning 40 percent of the votes cast are in question without the ability to verify the accounting of ballots and the proper instruction and internal controls involving poll workers and supervisors.
"OPA found that CEC lacks policies and procedures or a system to ensure ballot accountability," the audit states. "In addition, CEC did not emphasize to all poll workers the importance of ballot accountability. Furthermore, CEC does not impose consequences for poll workers' failure to properly account for all ballots delivered to them. During OPA's observation on the 2018 General Election night, most poll workers were unaware of the forms they were required to complete."
The audit comes to the same conclusion that the 2018 election results, especially in races where the discrepancies involving the ballot count and those three precincts are in question, calls the election into question.
"The lack of ballot accountability prevents CEC from identifying potential electoral fraud or irregularities and, as a result, could call into question the integrity of the election process and diminish the public's trust."
Did anyone cheat? Did the Commonwealth elect people, who ended up on election night believing they had lost the election, due to voter fraud?
Two things are certain from this report:
The CEC's conduct of the election and its inability to account for ballots is an assault on the most fundamental tenet of democracy - the right of its qualified citizens to vote, and for every vote to count toward a collective decision.
Gov. Torres and his henchmen need to find a new defense for why his misconduct in office should not be scrutinized; because this one has some sinking holes in it.