Six senators are backing a move to resurrect postal ballots through Nitijela Bill 91, which was scrutinized during a public hearing broadcast live on national radio V7AB Tuesday from the Nitijela Conference Room.
Last year, Nitijela voted to eliminate postal ballots.
The termination of postal ballots has caused a ruckus among Marshallese living in the US, especially in Springdale, Arkansas — which has an especially large population of Marshallese — and the states of Oregon and Hawaii.
Tuesday’s hearing was held before the Judiciary and Governmental Relations Committee chaired by Jaluit Senator Daisy Ali-Momotaro. Bill 91 was introduced by Minister Thomas Heine, Speaker Kenneth Kedi, and Senators Sherwood Tibon, Bruce Bilimon, Casten Nemra and David Kabua.
Former Kwajalein Senator Jeban Riklon made a comeback appearance at the public hearing by criticizing government leaders who failed to uphold what the Constitution was created for: to make life easier for the people, not harder.
Jeban said it is immoral for a student in the US to take time off from school, purchase an expensive airline ticket and travel to the RMI to cast a vote.
Jeban added that leaders feared the growing number of Marshallese in the US would swing the election results. “They also argued that people in the US don’t contribute to the economy but the increase in money transfers at the Bank of Marshall Islands suggest otherwise,” he said.
Online listeners tuning in on V7AB praised Riklon for his speech.
Secretary of Culture and Internal Affairs Wallace Peter, who represented Chief Electoral Officer Robson Almen, reminded the panel that fraudulent incidents in the past and lack of voting interest from Marshallese living overseas led to elimination of postal ballots.
“Take Springdale, Arkansas for example,” Wallace said. “There are 20,000 Marshallese living there but only 5,000 requested postal ballots and of that only 1,871 came out valid.”
Read more about this in the October 20, 2017 edition of the Marshall Islands Journal.