Thousands of Marshall Islands citizens came in droves Monday to the Island Community Center on Ebeye to cast their ballots in the Republic of the Marshall Islands 2015 local and national elections. While many came to the polls from their homes on Ebeye, others travelled down the east reef causeway from Gugeegue, North Loi and so on to get to Ebeye. Others living on Enubuj (Carlson) Ennylabegan (Carlos) and Bigej came in via boats. All endured long lines that snaked throughout the entrance of the community center to registration tables and finally to voting booths where citizens marked in their choices on paper ballots before slipping them into secure boxes, each marked with the name of the voter’s respective voting district.
The elections gave R.M.I. citizens in the islands, including those outside the country using mail-in ballots, the opportunity to reset their political representation nationally and locally. At each polling station, voters wrote in their choices for their local atoll government council members, their atoll mayor and their senators. The last opportunity they had to do so was during the election cycle in 2011, when voters’ current leaders were voted in.
Ebeye’s wasn’t the only polling station open on Kwajalein Atoll Monday. In addition to Ebeye, there was one opened at Ennubirr, Majetto and Ebadon, the latter two of which are located at the north-west tip of the atoll. Citizens on the atoll, and elsewhere on other atolls and islands, either made their way to the closest polling station, or they mailed in their ballots from outside the country.
The most local level of democratic political governance for an atoll’s residents is the local atoll government council, and on Kwajalein Atoll all nine Kwajalein Atoll Local Government Council member positions were up for grabs this year. More than 50 candidates campaigned for the positions. Those who get voted in will work with and advise the incoming mayor, also to be elected, in drafting regulations governing all local aspects of life on the islands that make up Kwajalein Atoll. (The islands making up U.S. Army Garrison-Kwajalein Atoll are an exception).
At the top echelon of local democratic atoll governance is the atoll mayor, and eight candidates battled for the top spot. Following the passing of late KALGOV Mayor Johnny Lemari in March, the incoming mayor will take over from acting Mayor Card Subille and lead the local atoll government council. Because R.M.I. law forbids mail-in ballots from being opened and tallied until 10 days after the election, the results of both of these elections are still undecided at the time of this writing and will likely not be released until early December.
On the national level, 33 senators represent the R.M.I. citizenry in 24 districts, and all of those senators were up for re-election during the 2015 election cycle. Each district is allotted its number of senators based on the district’s population size—similar to the number of representatives each U.S. state has in the House of Representatives. Majuro Atoll, for instance, is afforded five senators; Kwajalein Atoll, with a population of 12,000, is afforded three senators. Kwajalein Atoll Sens. Jeban Riklon, Tony deBrum (deBrum is also the current R.M.I. foreign minister) and Iroij Michael Kabua were up for re-election this year. They faced challenges by four atoll natives: Stephen Dribo, Ataji Balos, Alvin Jacklick and David Paul. Again, because of R.M.I. law, the results of these elections will not be released until early December.
Finally, it should be noted that, unlike the United States, the R.M.I’s political framework does not allow for citizens to decide, via an electoral vote, the nation’s president. The individual who becomes the president of the Marshall Islands is decided by the next crop of 33 senators placed into power by the voters. They make the selection via a vote at the start of the Nitijela’s next session the following January after the election. The newly-elected president will then select 10 senators out of the remaining pool of 32 to fill the positions in his executive cabinet.