A petition seeking to amend Palau’s National Constitution to limit voting at national and state elections to citizens physically present on island during elections was unveiled by former President and Attorney Johnson Toribiong last week during a radio talk show.
Currently, Palau’s Constitution prohibits ballot boxes from being sent outside of Palau but allows for absentee ballots. The petition seeks to amend the constitution to stop absentee ballots from being sent overseas and to require that citizens are present on island to vote in national and/or state elections.
The concern that more and more voters residing overseas are impacting outcomes of elections in Palau, is one of the drivers of this petition. Many Palauans that have been living overseas for years do not pay taxes or contribute to the local economy but their decisions impact those living in Palau. “These voters do not feel the consequences of their decisions”, said Toribiong.
This is the concept of “home rule” behind this initiative, explained Attorney Toribiong. “Those who live on the land are the ones who will decide for themselves for they know the issues and the challenges better.”
Another reason cited for this initiative is the recurring concern of voters’ fraud from the past elections. In areas with concentration of Palauans, chances of voter frauds increases, especially when number of ballots are sent to one address with one notary public provided and all ballots are sent back in one mail package. Numerous allegations of absentee ballots manipulation and fraud have been raised during past elections.
High cost of campaigning overseas was also cited as reason for the petition. Former President Toribiong, a veteran of many such elections, explain that just one airline ticket to Guam is about $1,000 and campaign usually involves an entourage, gifts of food and betel nut, a band and so on.
The high cost of travelling to campaign overseas deter qualified educated candidates with no financial means from running for offices. It only enables those with financial means to run for office.
Online responses of some of the Palauan voters overseas expressed outraged that their right to vote is being endangered by this proposal, arguing that taxes they pay in United States contributes to Palau’s economy. Most of the online responses of Palauans in Palau supports the petition to remove absentee ballot mandate in the constitution.
If 25% of registered voters sign the petition, it will be on a ballot in a referendum to be held at least six months before the general election of 2020. (L.N. Reklai)