GEC seeks cancellation of primary election

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Guam Election Commission (PNC file photo)

The Guam Election Commission is in favor of canceling the primary election next week due to the many challenges posed by the stricter PCOR-1 restrictions.

During an emergency board meeting this afternoon, the GEC board decided to send a letter to Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero and the legislature recommending that the primary election be canceled due to these challenges and the difficulties that GEC is experiencing.

The stricter measures call for a lockdown of at least one week starting 12 pm Friday, Aug. 21, 2020. That one week will last until Friday, Aug. 28, which is the day before the primary election set for Saturday, Aug. 29.

According to GEC, it has been experiencing challenges because of the restrictions posed by the tighter PCOR-1 rules.

GEC board member Jerry Crisostomo said a number of precinct officials who already underwent training have decided to back out because of fears over the mounting cases of COVID-19 as well as the further tightening of restrictions.

“I think there are about 15 that have already backed out,” he said.

In addition, Crisostomo said GEC business partners like suppliers of generators and other items needed to conduct the election have been shut down by the PCOR-1 declaration.

“We work with a lot of business partners like Graphic Center and suppliers of generators that we need for back-up. But these suppliers are basically shut down,” Crisostomo said..

Also, because of PCOR-1, GEC would not be able to conduct its test election, scheduled for next week Thursday. That test election would have been an important dry run that would test all of GEC’s voting machines and processes.

Moreover, under the stricter PCOR-1 rules, GEC’s overseas election consultant for the voting machines would have to undergo quarantine upon arrival on Guam even though he can be considered “essential.”

“Given these, we’ll be basically running an election that we’re not ready for. There are a lot of things that we have to prepare for but we cannot because of these challenges,” Crisostomo said.

During the meeting, the GEC board decided to send a letter to the governor, Speaker Tina Muna-Barnes, and Sen. Joe S. San Agustin who has oversight over GEC.

The letter expressed GEC’s concerns and recommended either a postponement of the primary by one or two weeks or the cancelation of the primary altogether and just going straight to the general election in November.

Under the law, only the legislature has the power to cancel an election with the governor’s concurrence.

But Crisostomo said the challenge of postponing the primary election is that by federal law, GEC needs to get the general election ballot out by Sept. 15. Thus, any postponement of the primary could derail the timing of getting the general ballot out.

“So we basically said in the letter that for the health and safety of the voting public as well as the election workers, it would be better to just cancel the primary election and move on to the general election. However, we do not have the statutory authority to do this. So we asked for guidance,” Crisostomo said.

If the choice is to postpone the primary, the GEC recommended a new Sept. 12, 2020 date for the primary election. But then, the 10 days needed for GEC certification of the primary election results would put it over the deadline to get the general election ballot out.

“The biggest priority right now is the health and safety of the voters and the election workers. All of us commissioners, Republican and Democrat, were unanimous on this,” Crisostomo said.

Moylan letter

Earlier, Republican senator James Moylan also wrote a letter to the governor urging her to either postpone or cancel the upcoming primary election.

In his letter, Moylan noted that there is a great concern with the recent spike in positive COVID-19 cases on island and that the governor herself was compelled to issue an executive order that literally calls for a lockdown.

“This EO expires on Aug. 28, 2020, at noontime. The 2020 primary election shall be held the very next day. Considering that the objective of your actions is to reduce the potential risks associated with spreading the virus through human interaction, wouldn’t we be defeating the purpose by lifting the stay-at-home order less than 24 hours before allowing the community to congregate in a larger scale gathering which elections on Guam have been known to be?” Moylan asked.

The senator added that while the governor doesn’t have the authority at this point to postpone or cancel the primary election, it would probably be in the best interest of the community if the governor submits legislation to the legislature to address the issue and possibly call for a special session next week for senators to discuss the issue.

“Time is of the essence. The very reason I had introduced Bill 375-35 along with Senator Therese Terlaje was because I was concerned about the health risks associated with large gatherings, and to give the legislature and the Guam Election Commission ample time to prepare for a safe general election. Unfortunately, the measure failed, and ironically as we are just eight days away from the primary election, it seems that the public health emergency has escalated,” Moylan said.

Suspended

Meanwhile, GEC has announced the suspension of in-office absentee voting in light of the further tightening of restrictions announced by the governor last Thursday.

Because of the social distancing required by COViD-19, GEC has been allowing in-office absentee voting, or early voting, at its GCC headquarters.

The early voting was supposed to continue this week from Monday to Friday, from 9 am to 7 pm with today’s Saturday schedule eliminated.

And then starting next week, because of the declaration of PCOR-1, the early voting schedule was further cut from 9 am to 5 pm only and from Monday to Friday only.

But with the further tightening of restrictions, GEC announced that it would be canceling all early voting altogether until further notice.

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