The Palau Election Commission Office (EC) has said that it received 1,029 absentee ballots as of last evening, with the possibility of receiving more, a number which could have a significant impact on the Senate and House of Delegates results from last week’s General Election.
Although the deadline for receiving absentee ballots is today, seven days following the election, the EC says that there may be more ballots which were carried in on last Thursday’s cargo flight which it will receive today. As of yesterday, the Election Commission reported that it has not yet recorded all received ballots and cannot confirm the exact number of ballots.
The current number of absentee ballots is less than half of the 2,393 ballots which were mailed out to voters abroad. However, Ms. Maria Decherong-Simer, Election Commissioner of the EC, has said that voter turnout for absentee ballots is generally less than 50 percent.
The absentee ballots will be tabulated this evening beginning at 6:30pm at Ngarachamayong Cultural Center, with the results to be announced afterwards.
With the narrow margins of votes dividing many of the unofficial winners of Senate and House from the other candidates, the absentee ballots have the potential to change the results and give the seats to other candidates in the running. With a high number of Palauan citizens living abroad, absentee votes have historically weighed heavily in Palau’s elections.
Although technically Surangel Whipps Jr.’s nomination as President is still unofficial, presidential candidate Raynold Oilouch has already conceded the victory to Whipps, with Whipps’ 1,202 votes lead larger than the number of absentee ballots currently received by the EC.
The period in which candidates may challenge the results of the election is set to last for 15 days, with the official results to be declared on November 17.
The vast majority of absentee ballots received by the EC were returned from Guam and the Mariana Islands, with the November 5th flight carrying some absentee ballots from Hawaii and the US mainland. The majority of those sent out and not yet received, however, were mailed to the US mainland, where many predicted there would be delays due to flight restrictions and slowdowns in the United States Postal Service.
Ms. Simer said that the Primary Election had seen some absentee ballots return which had missed the deadline, but that altogether they were less than one-hundred.