By Giff Johnson
Voter turnout in the November 2019 national election in the Marshall Islands was the lowest in five elections and possibly the lowest ever in a national election since constitutional government was first established in 1979.
Fewer than 40 percent of registered voters cast their ballots in the recent national election, continuing a downward trend since the high of 64 percent was set in 2003, according to information released by the Marshall Islands Electoral Administration on Friday.
Voter turnout data was not immediately available prior to the 2003 election.
The 2019 voter turnout was just 38 percent, down eight percent from 2015 and 16 percent compared to the 2003 election.
The low number of votes actually cast in the November 18 national election also reflects the lack of postal absentee ballots from the tens of thousands of Marshall Islanders living in the United States, the first time for postal voting to be eliminated in an election in the Marshall Islands.
The parliament in 2016 adopted a law cancelling the voting system through the mails that had been in place for four decades. The law was declared unconstitutional by the country's courts in October but not in time for the voting system to be restored for the November election.
In all elections since 2003, more voters cast votes than in 2019.
Even though only 31,302 were registered in 2003, 20,078 voted. The highest number ever of voters were registered for 2019 - 47,133 - but only 17,834 cast votes, according to Electoral Administration data.
Three of the last five elections have seen more than 20,000 votes cast, while the 2007 election had 18,093 people vote.
After the high of 64 percent turnout in 2003, the percentages have consistently dropped: 2007 50 percent, 2011 51 percent, 2015 46 percent, and 2019 38 percent.
Only three atolls had over 50 percent of their registered voters cast ballots in the November 18 national election.
Wotje, which featured openings in both the parliament and mayor contests, had the highest turnout in the nation at 58 percent.
Namu, with a tough parliament race between incumbent Tony Isaiah and challenger Ace Doulatram, was next with 56 percent.
Ujae had 54 percent of its 764 voters turn out to cast votes in what turned out not to be a close election with incumbent Atbi Riklon easily winning re-election.
All other atolls and islands were under 50 percent turnout. The poorest turnout was in Lae, with 21 percent - only 199 of 952 registered voters - voting.
This was likely the result of the Nitijela seat being automatic in 2019. Likiep wasn't much better, with 22 percent - 556 of 2,474 - voting. All others were in the 30-40 percent range.