Northern Mariana Islands independents to seal Heinz or Fitial victory


Thousands of supporters of the two losing independent gubernatorial candidates in Saturday’s peaceful and orderly elections will seal the victory of either Republican Rep. Heinz S. Hofschneider or Gov. Benigno R. Fitial of the Covenant Party in the first ever runoff election to be held in the CNMI.

Both said they are “confident” they will get the support of the independent voters.

Hofschneider topped Fitial by only eight votes-the closest gubernatorial election in the history of the CNMI. The unofficial tally by the Commonwealth Election Commission showed that Hofschneider garnered 4,900 votes while Fitial got 4,892 votes.

In separate interviews after the last votes were counted shortly after 5am on Sunday, Fitial and Hofschneider said they share the same platform and vision with independent candidates Juan “Pan” T. Guerrero and former senator Ramon “Kumoi” S. Guerrero.

As of yesterday, Guerrero said he has yet to meet with his core team and supporters to discuss, among other things, the runoff election and whether they will support either of the candidates.

Deleon Guerrero could not be reached for comment when the unofficial voting results came out.

Both Fitial and Hofschneider are already banking on independent voters for the runoff election, which will take place just days before the federal takeover of local immigration on Nov. 28.

“I think we stand a better and greater chance to win the runoff because I am closer to Juan Pan and Kumoi,” Fitial told Saipan Tribune in an interview at the Covenant Party headquarters on Middle Road shortly before 6am on Sunday.

Hofschneider, in a separate interview at the Republican Party headquarters in As Lito, said his team will sustain the “good momentum” in the runoff.

“Our team is also confident that we are reaching over to Juan Pan’s and Kumoi’s supporters because they will realize that we have the vision that they saw in both of them. They will come around and support us,” he said.

Runoff

The tandem of Hofschneider and House Speaker Arnold I. Palacios and the team of Fitial and Lt. Gov. Eloy Inos each got 35 percent of the 13,784 votes cast, out of the 16,108 voters who registered for the Nov. 7 elections.

Voter turnout stood at only 86 percent. This is much lower than the 93 percent recorded in the 2005 gubernatorial elections where Fitial edged Hofschneider by just 99 votes.

Because none of the gubernatorial candidates on Saturday got at least 6,892 votes, which represent 50 percent plus 1 of the 13,784 actual votes cast, a runoff is required. There are a total of 16,108 registered Commonwealth voters.

This is the first time a gubernatorial runoff election will be held in the CNMI.

The Commonwealth Election Commission has 10 days to certify the election results but the agency hinted that it may be able to certify the results by Tuesday, Nov. 10.

The runoff election will be held within 14 days after the commission certifies the results of the Nov. 7 voting.

In Saturday’s election, independent Juan “Pan” T. Guerrero and his running mate, House Floor Leader Joseph Camacho, received 2,643 votes, while another independent candidate, Ramon “Kumoi” S. Deleon Guerrero and his running mate, Dr. David M. Borja, got 1,101 votes.

Tooth and nail

The polls opened at 7am on Saturday and closed at 7pm.

The Commonwealth Election Commission started tabulating the absentee ballots at 10pm. The ballots from Rota and Tinian arrived at 10:35pm.

Robert Guerrero, the commission’s executive director, announced the results of the absentee ballots at 11:45pm. Hofschneider edged Fitial in the absentee votes, 792-598.

This is the first time that three of four gubernatorial candidates traveled to the U.S. mainland to meet with off island voters. Absentee voters doubled in 2009, from only about 1,000 in 2005.

Hofschneider’s 194-vote lead narrowed to just 125 when results of the voting in Election District 2 (Chalan Kanoa/Susupe) were announced. He only got 321 votes compared to Fitial’s 390.

Hofschneider maintained a 150-vote lead when he received 1,166 votes from Election District 1 versus Fitial’s 1,141. This district includes San Antonio, San Vicente, and Koblerville and is a known bailiwick of Hofschneider, who received 1,599 votes in 2005 compared to Fitial’s 1,106.

When Election District 5 (Kagman) votes were counted, Hofschneider’s lead slightly went up to 158, with the GOP bet getting 648 votes compared to Fitial’s 640.

A reversal of fortune began when Fitial’s 458 votes from Election District 3A (Oleai) came in; Hofschneider got only 151. Fitial was ahead of Hofschneider by 149 votes at this time. Oleai is a known bailiwick of the governor.

When Election District 7 (Rota) votes were counted, Fitial maintained an overall 137-vote lead, despite Hofschneider getting a higher number of votes from Rota, 792-598. Guerrero won the Rota race, getting 294 votes.

Fitial’s overall lead narrowed to just 29 when he got 589 votes from Election District 3B (Garapan); Hofschneider got 697. Garapan is a hotly contested election district, with over 2,600 registered voters.

The incumbent governor’s overall lead widened a bit to 53 when results of Election District 4A (Tanapag) voting were counted. He got 180 votes, while Hofschneider got 156.

Fitial got 129 votes from Election District 4B (San Roque) while Hofschneider got 145, narrowing the governor’s lead to 37.

Hofschneider regained his overall edge over Fitial when ballots from Election District 6 (Tinian) were counted. Tinian gave Hofschneider 406 votes compared to Fitial’s 332-a 37-vote lead.

Election District 4C (Capitol Hill) gave Hofschneider an overall lead of 59 over Fitial. Hofschneider got 122 votes in this district, while the governor got 100.

The crowd at the Multi-Purpose Center in Susupe, where the counting was held, was silent as the result of the last election district was read by the Election Commission’s executive director.

Fitial won Election District 4D (Northern Islands), 88-37, but this failed to topple Hofschneider’s total lead of eight votes.

Hofschneider received total votes of 4,900 while Fitial ended up getting 4,892 votes-the narrowest margin in a gubernatorial race in CNMI history.

The election commission asked media organizations to wait a little longer to tally the votes to confirm the eight-point lead.

When the unofficial tally came out, reporters set out to the campaign headquarters of Fitial on Middle Road, and Hofschneider in As Lito.

Inos, the running mate of Fitial, said they haven’t gotten any sleep, waiting for the counting to end.

Fitial was in high spirits during the interview but he said he feels sleepy. “Some people asked me, ‘are you worried?’ I said ‘how can a sleepy person be worried?’”

Election Day

Even before the polling places opened at 7am, there was already a long line at the Garapan Elementary School polling station.

Independent gubernatorial bet Ramon “Kumoi” Deleon Guerrero was already in line when Fitial arrived at 7:05am. Fitial’s supporters, however, asked the governor and his wife to take their place in front of the line to be able to vote early.

Thus Fitial was the first among gubernatorial candidates to cast his vote, at 7:10am.

Deleon Guerrero cast his vote at 7:10am.

“I feel good. When I feel good, I’m going 60 percent,” Deleon Guerrero, a former senator, told Saipan Tribune right after exiting the polling place.

He said those “people suffering from the fuel surcharge” will make him win the elections.

Fitial, right after voting, said he feels “great. I feel very, very good. I also want all people to feel good when they vote.”

He and his wife, first lady Josie Fitial, attended Mass at the San Jose Parish Church before voting.

“I’m very optimistic,” the governor added, when asked about his chance of being re-elected.

Businessman Juan “Pan” T. Guerrero, an independent gubernatorial candidate, arrived at his campaign tent outside Garapan Elementary School around 8:30am and walked with his supporters to the polling station to vote at 9:10am.

He said there’s a need for a change in CNMI leadership.

Also early in line at the same polling place was Saipan mayoral bet Angelo Villagomez.

Hofschneider and his wife arrived at the polling place at 6pm and cast their votes at 6:10pm. His running mate, Palacios, along with his wife, cast their votes at 5pm.

“I’m very confident. Arnold and I, we’ve done our outreach for the last 10 months. I think we’ve done well in reaching out to the community, in their houses, in rallies,” Hofschneider said after voting.

‘Unfortunate’

Lani Iguel, 23, finished voting at the Tanapag Youth Center at 10am.

Iguel said she didn’t know there are three legislative initiatives and one popular initiative included on the ballot.

Questions about the four initiatives are on the reverse or back side of the ballot.

“I didn’t even know there’s something at the back. I didn’t know about those,” she told Saipan Tribune.

Hofschneider said it is “unfortunate” that there are voters who forgot or didn’t know about the inclusion of the initiatives on the ballot.

Sharisse Rivera, 19, said that voting for only the second time in her life-and the first for a gubernatorial race-made her “nervous.”

“What if I made a mistake?” she asked. She was with her mother, who waited for her outside the polling station.

Angelina Phillips, 18, said she’s excited to vote for the first time. She fell in line at the Garapan Elementary School at 7:37am. “I will vote straight for one party,” she said.

Congratulations

From Washington, D.C., Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan congratulated all voters and candidates in Saturday’s elections.

“On Saturday, once again, a record breaking 84 percent of registered voters in the Northern Mariana Islands exercised their right to vote. Nowhere else in America do so many Americans take this civic responsibility so seriously. I congratulate all of these voters. And I congratulate all the candidates who gave the voters many different options for leadership,” he said in a statement.

Sablan is a former executive director of the Commonwealth Election Commission.

He said that, except for the gubernatorial election, which will require a runoff, the unofficial results seem to make clear who the leaders will be in the coming years.

“I pledge to respect the choices that voters made and to work cooperatively with all to advance the interest of the people of the Northern Mariana Islands.”

Greg M. Camacho, chairman of the Covenant Party, also congratulated all the candidates for showing a good fight.

The CNMI has 16,108 registered voters, including more than 2,000 absentee voters. More than half of the 110 certified candidates were running as independents for various positions in the CNMI government.

saipantribune.com

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