A proposed law supported by Democrats and Republicans would implement a streamlined voter registration process for all eligible U.S. citizen residents of Guam with the choice to opt out, was introduced yesterday by Sen. Régine Biscoe Lee. Sens. Wil Castro, Fernando Esteves, Tommy Morrison, Joe San Agustin and Mary Torres co-sponsored Bill 234-34. The measure would register eligible citizens as voters upon their registration for an ID card or driver’s license with the Motor Vehicles Division at the Department of Revenue and Taxation. The registration will happen automatically unless the registrant checks a box to opt out.
Articles about voting issues in Guam.
Bill 45-34, a piece of major election reform intended to eliminate primaries on Guam, has again failed to pass the Legislature. Discussion in session revolved around the technical ramifications of the measure. Early in session, Sen. Joe San Agustin, the bill’s author, stated that a Nov. 29 letter from the Guam Election Commission acknowledged that the understanding of a majority vote was 50 percent of votes plus one. However, San Agustin said the code of law the election commission cited made reference to all other votes except candidate elections. Elections only require a majority in terms of the most votes, San Agustin said.
Bill 45-34, an act to remove the primary election from the Guam Code Annotated was sent back to committee during session yesterday. Speaker Benjamin Cruz ordered that the bill, also known as the “Election Reform Act of 2017,” be sent back after several issues were raised about the provisions of the bill. “With these issues, we may need to completely restudy the whole bill,” he said. Prior to the decision, lawmakers deliberated on a bill provision concerning the election of the public auditor following Sen. Joe San Agustin’s motion to amend the bill to remove the provision that refers to a runoff election.
The amended version of Bill 45-34, a measure from Sen. Joe San Agustin seeking to eliminate primary elections on Guam, was moved to the voting file during session yesterday. Lawmakers debated the provisions of the bill, with San Agustin emphasizing the cost-saving goal of the bill, noting that the primary elections are paid for by the public through appropriations made to the Guam Election Commission. Eliminating the primary elections would generate savings, he said. The Legislature’s Committee on General Government Appropriations convened a public hearing for the bill in August, during which Sen. Michael San Nicolas, committee chair, estimated the cost of holding a primary election at around $400,000. San Nicolas added that the 2016 primary resulted in about 2,000 spoiled ballots, which came to an estimated cost of about $32,000.
The governor may be the determining signatory on which two competing pieces of legislation being debated in the Guam Legislature would become law. Bills 156-34 and 45-34 attempt to legislate election reform related to primaries. While Bill 156 intends to change the date of the primary election and the date of filing candidate nomination papers – to ease the burden on the Guam Election Commission – Bill 45 would eliminate the primary entirely. Sen. Mary Torres introduced Bill 156, while Sen. Joe San Agustin introduced Bill 45.
Guam residents who register to vote through a volunteer registrar get into the Guam Election Commission’s database faster than applicants using the agency’s online registration service, according to GEC Executive Director Maria Pangelinan. Prospective voters are advised when they click on the online registration link on GEC’s website that the application process requires about 12 minutes, giving the “illusion that the process is entirely automated,” according to Pangelinan. The process, however, is anything but. After applicants fill out the form, which requires them to input either their driver’s license or Guam ID information, the data is then printed onto a paper spreadsheet and sent to the Department of Motor Vehicles for validation.
The nuclear conflict with North Korea that has made Guam the target of a threatened attack has led to new calls to change the government of the Pacific island whose inhabitants are American citizens but have no say in electing the president or the use of military force. Guam is a U.S. territory where many of its 160,000 residents have long advocated for a different form of government; they just can’t agree on what they want. Some want to become the 51st state, or at least have more say in the government. Others want independence from the U.S. Another faction wants to eliminate the heavy American military presence on an island where 7,000 troops are stationed and the main thoroughfare is called Marine Corps Drive. The feud between President Donald Trump and North Korea has upset some residents, given their lack of voting power in presidential elections.
Rodney Cruz was born an American citizen. He did a tour in Iraq during 10 years in the Army, and was wounded on the battlefield three times, eventually suffering a traumatic brain injury. His enlistment followed in the footsteps of many of his relatives, an unbroken line of military service. Five successive generations of his family have put their lives on the line for the country, but like four million other Americans in the U.S. territories, Cruz, as a resident of Guam, is constitutionally barred from voting in federal elections. But with some help from a brand-new legal platform, Cruz intends to change that. As the founder of the Iraq-Afghanistan Persian Gulf Veterans of the Pacific, Cruz is one of the lead plaintiffs in the Segovia v. Chicago Board of Elections Commissioners’ case, a lawsuit seeking to challenge the prohibition on residents of U.S. territories voting in federal elections. The suit is one of several recent legal challenges around the issue of voting rights, sovereignty, and citizenship in the U.S. territories. After the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois ruled against the plaintiffs and denied a motion for summary judgment last year, the plaintiffs and a nonprofit voting-rights organization called We the People Project turned to crowdfunding to finance an appeal to the U.S. Seventh Circuit court.
The Guam Election Commission will begin removing inactive voters next month in line with public law, reducing current voter registration numbers of more than 51,000 down to about 46,000. Local law requires the cancellation of inactive voters’ registration after voters fail to participate in the two most recent general elections, in this case the 2014 and 2016 general elections. Guam Election Commission Executive Director Maria Pangelinan said there are approximately 5,318 names of voters on the current list that will be purged by Feb. 24.
An appellate court decision in a voting rights case in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands may weigh heavily on a similar lawsuit here at home on who can vote for Guam’s political status. “This is basic civics; this is fundamental civics that everyone regardless of race has a right to vote,” proclaimed Dr. Ron McNinch of the University of Guam. Shortly before the new year, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a decision on CNMI resident John Davis’ case against the Commonwealth Election Commission. Davis filed a lawsuit alleging a CNMI law “unconstitutionally limit(s) voting on the basis of race.” McNinch broke it down, saying, “The Davis CNMI case, the Davis v. The CEC case is a case about voting over land issues in the CNMI, and the CNMI developed kind of like Guam developed, its own kind of resident, traditional resident only voting process where if you didn’t fit a certain category of voter, you couldn’t vote.