January 20, 2000
The Voting Integrity Project
PO Box 6470
Arlington VA 22206-0470
(888) 578-4343 toll-free
(978) 945-5688 fax
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
M Miller Baker (202) 310-5583
Deborah M Phillips (888) 578-4343
US SUPREME COURT DRAWS FROM VIP BRIEF IN UNANIMOUS GUAM GUBERNATORIAL RULING
(Washington, D.C.) --The United States Supreme Court yesterday ruled that blank and other improperly marked ballots need not be counted in Guam's gubernatorial election. Writing for a unanimous Court, Justice David Souter drew heavily on the arguments made by an amicus brief that the Voting Integrity Project ("VIP") filed in the case, Gutierrez v. Ada(Case No. 99-51).
The case involved a challenge by Republican Joseph Ada to Democrat Carl Gutierrez's re-election as governor of Guam in 1998. VIP supported Governor Gutierrez's position that he was rightfully certified as the winner of the election by receiving a majority of the votes validly cast in the election. The case posed important issues that threatened election integrity beyond this particular election.
In the 1998 election in Guam, over three percent of the voters that appeared at the polls on election day cast incomplete or blank ballots. A statute enacted by Congress, which has plenary authority over Guam, requires that in order to win an election without facing a runoff, a gubernatorial slate must receive "a majority of all votes cast in any election." Of the votes properly cast, Gutierrez's slate achieved a clear majority, but Ada sued, alleging that the federal statute requires that the improperly marked ballots must be counted in order to determine the number necessary for a majority. If the improperly marked ballots were counted, Gutierrez's slate would have fallen just short of a majority. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit accepted Ada's claims and ordered a runoff election. The Supreme Court adopted VIP's argument that the Ninth Circuit misinterpreted the law by ignoring its statutory context. The law speaks only of the gubernatorial elections. Elections for other offices such as legislature or school board cannot dictate the gubernatorial vote count. Similarly, ballots that are deemed void under Guam's territorial election code should not be counted. Otherwise, it would be too difficult for the citizens of Guam to elect a governor. VIP is a non-profit, non-partisan public interest organization headquartered in Arlington, Virginia. It is dedicated to preserving and protecting the fundamental right to vote and the integrity of American elections. In the case of Guam, VIP intervened to ensure that the rights of citizens who properly voted in the 1998 gubernatorial election would not be diluted by persons who chose not to cast proper ballots on election day. This decision by the Supreme Court guarantees that result.
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