The Legislature voted 12-3 during emergency session Thursday to cancel the primary election set for this Saturday, Aug. 29.
Voting yes to pass Bill No. 391-35 (LS), which seeks to cancel the primary election, were senators James Moylan, Telena Nelson, Sabina Perez, Clynt Ridgell, Amanda Shelton, Telo Taitague, Jose “Pedo” Terlaje, Therese Terlaje, Mary Torres, Joe S. San Agustin, Regine Biscoe Lee, and Speaker Tina-Muna Barnes.
Lawmakers who voted no on the bill were senators Louise Muna, Kelly Marsh (Taitano) and Wil Castro.
If Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero signs the bill into law, which she has indicated that she will, all the candidates will advance into the general election this November.
The bill was passed with amendments including one from Minority Leader Telo Taitague whose amendment eliminated the mail-in voting provision from the bill.
Section 3 of the bill authorizes registered voters to request the Guam Election Commission (GEC) to mail official ballot materials for the 2020 general election. The section also requires GEC to establish rules and regulations by Sept. 20, 2020 for the administration of mail-in voting.
But Taitague pointed out that considering the PCOR-1 restrictions and the mounting positive cases of COVID-19, it’s obvious that GEC and the Department of Public Health and Social Services won’t have a system in place in time to move forward with a primary election whether this Saturday or two weeks from now.
“Although I was one of the 2,000 plus voters who voted early in the 2020 primary election, I respect the decision my colleagues and I made today based on the information provided by GEC and DPHSS. At the end of the day, it’s important that we have a safe election,” Taitague stated.
She added: “While Section 3 provided language for GEC to develop rules and regulations for mail-in voting, I believe Bill 391 should focus only on canceling the primary election and that no other provision should be added to ensure that GEC has the time and resources it needs to properly administer mail-in voting if and when such a decision is made.”
Republican senator James Moylan, the sponsor of Bill 375-35, a measure which sought to cancel the 2020 primary election, said that while he walked into the Guam Congress Building with the intent of proposing to postpone the primary election to September 12, 2020, due to federal timelines and technicalities, this was not possible.
“It was certainly disappointing that over 2,500 island residents will now have their ballots thrown out the window. It was unfortunate that this issue was not addressed in July when we had the opportunity to do what was right. This last minute, reactionary decision is an injustice to those who took the time to vote since early voting started, as well as those who were seeking to run write-in campaigns. It is an action that this legislature could have avoided if they placed politics aside last month and voted using the foresight of what many saw coming,” Moylan said.
Even Speaker Tina Muna Barnes was prepared to introduce an amendment to postpone the primary election to Sept. 5.
But GEC executive director Maria Pangelinan said there is a federal rule that requires GEC to mail general election ballots by Sept. 18 and that time frame would not be achievable if the primary election was postponed.
“I just want to engage in these discussions and determine what is the will of this body. I am more concerned with the undue risks that we will be putting our community in. And while this body has made strides in allowing for a safe early voting with the passage of Bill 330-35, I want everyone to know that the Guam Election Commission has noted that between 16,000 to 19,000 registered voters are estimated to vote at the primary election. We will be risking thousands of our people to meet at designated polling sites during this vicious spike in COVID-19 cases,” the Speaker said.
After the vote was over, the Democratic Party of Guam sent a statement praising the decision.
“The Guam Election Commission put partisanship aside and unanimously called for the cancellation of the primary. Today, a bipartisan group of legislators answers that call and we appreciate their work. Now we begin the task of preparing to make the General election safe for Guam. That work will demand sacrifice but we have proven together we can overcome anything,” stated Democratic Party Chair Sarah Thomas-Nededog.
She added: “I commend Speaker Muna-Barnes leadership for garnering the support of 11 of her colleagues. All of whom deliberated and acted swiftly to ensure the safety of our voters while protecting the democratic process. I’m confident Governor Leon Guerrero will endorse this call to protect our people in her continued response to this pandemic. Let’s move forward, together,” said Thomas-Nededog.
Aside from GEC’s Pangelinan, Attorney General Leevin Camacho, Department of Public Health and Social Services acting director Art San Agustin, and GEC board members were invited to give testimony on the bill.
AG Camacho read out a legal opinion his office released which concluded that canceling a primary election would not likely constitute a “per se” violation of the Constitution, regardless of whether an election for federal office is involved.
He did warn that as with any election law, constitutional challenges are possible and such challenges could involve a court’s analysis of balancing the interests of the government against those of individuals.