COVID-19 may still derail Guam primary election

Photo shows in-house office absentee voting at the Guam Election Commission. (PNC file photo)

Although Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero has already said that the Aug. 29 primary election will push through, the COVID-19 virus might still disrupt operations and have an adverse effect on the election.

This was discussed during Monday night’s Guam Election Commission board meeting during which it was pointed out that there would be some 400 election officials, employees, workers, and other people related to the election who would be converging on the University of Guam Fieldhouse for at least 12 hours.

GEC board member G.Patrick Civille expressed concern that GEC staffers and newly hired precinct officers are not getting tested for COVID-19.

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“We need to have discussions about that … about what kind of risks that creates … The responsible thing to do is to have GEC personnel tested because they come into contact with the public,” Civille said.

But GEC executive director Maria Pangelinan said she already brought this issue up with the Department of Public Health and Social Services.

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“They said it’s okay because we are essential employees,” Pangelinan said.

She also said that the challenge for GEC is that if the agency has its staffers and newly hired precinct officers tested, they would have to be on self-quarantine until they get their test results back.

“The office stays open but we’ll be short-handed,” Pangelinan said.

With less than two weeks before the primary election, this could severely hamper the preparations needed for the primary as well as the actual holding of the election itself.

And then the unthinkable issue was raised: What if many GEC staffers and precinct workers test positive to the point that the successful holding of the primary election would be compromised?

GEC Vice Chairman Alice Taijeron pointed out that GEC does not have the power to postpone or cancel the primary election. She said only the governor and the legislature can do this.

Board member Jerry Crisostomo said a Plan B would have to be drafted in case the worst-case scenario happens and GEC would have to work with Adelup and the Legislature to develop such a plan.

Early voting

COVID-19 and the governor’s declaration of PCOR1 have already affected early voting at GEC.

According to Pangelinan, the early voting will continue this week from Monday to Friday, 9 pm to 7 pm but the Saturday schedule has been cut.

Starting next week, Pangelinan said the early voting schedule will be only from 9 am to 5 pm and only from Monday to Friday.

Those who want to vote early are asked to call 477-9791 to schedule an appointment to vote.

Appointments are slotted every half hour to give GEC staff time to process each voter properly, sanitize frequently touched surfaces, and limit the number of people in the polling room in an effort to practice social distancing.

“By scheduling an appointment to cast your absentee ballot, you help us mitigate long lines and, most importantly, help Guam minimize the spread of COVID-19. The GEC will not turn voters away,” Pangelinan said.

She added that Wednesday, Aug. 19 is the deadline for district registration and the submission of campaign finance.

GEC Chairman Michael Perez warned that even if only one GEC staffer tests positive for COVID-19, early voting may still have to be stopped because everyone may need to be tested for contact tracing.

As of 5 pm Monday, Pangelinan said 1,535 have already cast early ballots.