The November 18 national election is arguably the most significant in the RMI’s history. The vote will elect national leadership that will be responsible to oversee negotiations with the US for post-2023 Compact funding and to guide the RMI through a period of increasingly contentious relations between China and the US, which has implications for RMI-Taiwan ties.
The wildcard in this election is the lack of postal absentee ballots: aside from fewer votes potentially affecting electability of some candidates, will this be an issue that affects voting patterns? It is an issue that has angered offshore voters, but how much of a voting issue is it for voters living in the RMI?
Some candidates tell us, for example, that at Kwajalein this issue is not being raised by voters. In Majuro, however, the postal ballot issue is part of the election conversation, with anger over the postal vote ban being expressed by some residents. At the same time, voters tend to support their relatives, so issues such as the postal ballot ban may be muted in this voting environment.
Only a handful of seats in the 2015 national election were decided by postal absentee ballots. No doubt, as more and more Marshallese have migrated to the US, offshore voters will be able to control the outcomes of many electorates in the future — once some method of voting is put in place for them, as required by the recent Supreme Court ruling that declared a total ban on offshore voting to be unconstitutional.
In the meantime, I was in Honolulu earlier this week and met some Marshallese at the airport who were traveling to Majuro specifically to cast their ballots. As November 18 approaches, we can expect more Marshallese to fly in to cast their ballots — but assuredly the number will be minuscule compared to the tens of thousands of adult islanders now living in America.
The KBE electorate looks to possibly see a significant influx of KBE-registered voters coming in from the US courtesy of KBE Local Government funding.
Aside from KBE, offshore voters are largely on their own nickel if they want to cast a ballot on November 18.
How the postal concerns may impact the outcome from the November 18 national election is anyone’s guess. Still, this month’s vote is unprecedented in the RMI’s 40 years for being a domestic-only vote.
Read more about this in the November 8, 2019 edition of the Marshall Islands Journal.