US Attorney Alicia Limtiaco on Federal Election Law

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Last week the U.S. Attorney for Guam and the CNMI, Alicia Limtiaco, met with the CNMI Election Commission. She announced that Assistant U.S. Attorney James Benedetto will serve as "district election officer for the Commonwealth and who will lead the efforts of U.S. Attorney's Office in the implementation of the justice department's nationwide election day program for the Nov. 2 congressional polls." She also assigned FBI agent Sharon Huber to serve as acting district's election crime coordinator in the CNMI.

The Saipan Tribune reported:
To assist the local election commission in identifying election fraud, intimidation, and suppression matters that might be of federal interest, she [Limtiaco] provided the agency an outline of the principal bases through which the federal government attains prosecutorial jurisdiction over election fraud, intimidation, suppression and general types of conduct that can be prosecuted under existing federal criminal law.

Because the federal government will have jurisdiction over all Commonwealth elections in the future, due to the adoption of Senate Legislative Initiative 16-11 in the last elections, Limtiaco emphasized that it is her intent to publish a series of outreach articles to help educate the public about federal election law.
The following is one of the informative outreach articles:

What CNMI voters and candidates need to know


“It's not the hand that signs the laws that holds the destiny of America. It's the hand that casts the ballot.” -Harry S. Truman

Two recent events have changed how elections are conducted in the CNMI. On May 8, 2008, President George W. Bush signed into law the Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008, Public Law 110-229. Section 711 of the CNRA provided for representation of the CNMI in the U.S. House of Representatives. Then, in November of last year, the voters of the CNMI passed Senate Legislative Initiative 16-11, to hold elections in the Commonwealth only in even-numbered years to coincide with the elections for the Congressional Delegate. The effect of these two events was to convert all CNMI elections to “federal” elections, that is, elections in which a federal candidate is on the ballot, and to apply federal election law to every CNMI election from now on.

This means the federal government now has jurisdiction to prosecute violations of federal election law, including election fraud, patronage crimes, and campaign financing violations. Some of these violations are, and have been, prohibited by CNMI law; others may have been tolerated under local law, or may even be considered customary or acceptable local practice. CNMI voters and candidates for political office-not just those running for the Congressional Delegate seat-should inform themselves about the requirements of these laws.

This series of columns is the first step in the process. It is intended to provide CNMI voters and candidates basic information about Federal election crimes. Part 1 provides a summary of the federal law on election fraud. Part 2 deals with patronage crimes. And Part 3 concerns prohibited political activity by public officials.

Part 1: Election fraud

Election fraud generally involves corruption of the process of registering voters, or in obtaining, marking, casting, and counting the ballots. Free and fair elections are critical to the health of a democracy. Elections ensure the peaceful transition of power from one administration to the next, and assure the consent of the governed. When the election process is corrupted, democracy is in jeopardy. For that reason, the prosecution of election fraud is one of the Department of Justice's top priorities.

As important as free and fair elections are to our democracy, the principle responsibility for overseeing elections falls to the states and commonwealths. The federal government's role in elections is the criminal prosecution of those who commit election crimes. Except for ensuring equal access to voters at the polls pursuant to the Voting Rights Act, the federal government does not monitor or oversee elections at polling places.

Federal election fraud includes:

- Paying voters to register or vote. The prohibition on “vote buying” is intentionally broad under Federal law, and includes anything of monetary value. So, for example, if a candidate or anyone acting on behalf of that candidate offered to pay $300 to a person to induce him to vote, that would be a Federal crime. Another example of a crime would be if a candidate or anyone acting on behalf of that candidate offered to pay a voter's utility bill or a medical bill for a family member.

- Conspiring to suppress voter participation. Voter suppression schemes are designed to ensure election of a favored candidate by discouraging participation by voters who support, or who are believed to support, another candidate. Examples of voter suppression schemes include providing misleading information about polling places or hours, to trick voters into showing up at the wrong place or time. Such schemes also include distribution of mailers intended to keep prospective voters away from the polls, by making them think they might be arrested if there were questions about their eligibility to vote.

- “Ballot theft.” Impersonating another voter, altering their ballot, or otherwise causing a vote to be cast in the voter's name without his or her consent, is at the crux of this violation. Some schemes involve the perpetrator aggressively “assisting” voters but not letting them choose who to vote for, such as in nursing homes. Absentee ballots, which are marked and cast outside of polling places, have often been used in this type of fraud.

- Voter intimidation. Any kind of physical assault or threat designed to keep people from voting is obviously against the law. But the law prohibits more than just physical assaults and threats of physical harm. Threats of economic harm-such as non-renewal of an employment contract of a voter or a voter's family member, or cancellation of valuable government leases-are also criminal acts if intended to coerce voters into supporting a favored candidate or to refrain from supporting another candidate.

- Voting more than once. In Chicago, a city famous for its past election fraud, gangster Al Capone once quipped that people should “vote early, and often.” But federal law allows only one vote per person.

- Ballot-box stuffing. Elections officials acting under color of law may be prosecuted for tossing out valid registrations or ballots, rendering false vote counts, or otherwise preventing valid registrations or ballots from being counted.

- Fraudulent registration or voting. Federal law prohibits submitting fictitious names to election officials, or registering convicted felons, aliens, or nonresidents, with the intent of qualifying those 'voters' to vote in an election.

Prosecution of election crimes can be challenging. It can take a long time for evidence of election fraud to be detected. People with direct knowledge of such crimes are often reluctant to come forward and tell what they know. In order to detect, investigate and prosecute election crimes, documentation of the registration and voting process must be retained by election officials for a sufficient period to allow credible evidence of voter fraud to surface. Federal law requires that all original documentation generated in connection with the registration and voting process be retained for at least 22 months. Any election officer who willfully fails to keep covered election records is subject to prosecution.

Anyone with information concerning possible election fraud should contact the Federal Bureau of Investigation and ask to speak with the FBI's Election Crimes Coordinator, at 322-6934, or AUSA Jim Benedetto, the District Election Officer for the CNMI, at the United States Attorney's Office in Saipan, at 236-2980. All calls are confidential, and any person who retaliates against a witness who has given information to Federal law enforcement authorities is subject to serious criminal penalties.


Anonymous said...

Aligning our elections with the federal schedule is the dumbest thing we have ever done.

Anonymous said...

Yes, it did get an extra year for the terms of our representatives, senators, board members, mayors, and governor -- whom most of the legislature passing the proposed Constitutional amendment presumed would not be Fitial.

This same sort of institutional self-interest was why the elected AG proposal went nowhere on Capital Hill. Everyone was hoping that their candidate and party-mate would be in a position to appoint his own complaisant nominee to head the OAG.

On the bright side, we do now have federal jurisdiction in the event all this online huffing and puffing about “election irregularities” has any substantive merit to it whatsoever.

“Federalization: You asked for it; you got it.”

Anonymous said...

If you are for stealing elections, then it was really dumb to align your elections with the federal schedule. If you hope the CNMI can remain a banana republic forever, then it was really dumb. If you dream of your children living in thrall to vulgar pickpockets like Ben Fitial, then it was really dumb.

On the other hand, if you want help cleaning up the cesspool that is CNMI governance, it was a good move. If you want your children and grandchildren to be able to vote their choice without having to risk being fired from their jobs, it was a good move. If you dream of seeing tax dollars devoted to clean water, paved roads, reliable power, and saving for a rainy day, it was definitely a good move.

captain said...

It seems Limtiaco has described all of the "common" practices during election time by the past and present elected. I have great confidence though that all of the mentioned election year fraud will continue as in the past. I also have confidence that the Feds will take down a few people if this happens. this particular time there may not be much but wait until the general election when all of these recycled clowns will do anything to keep their paycheck and "discretionary funds" rolling in.