Despite Covid restrictions, Guam's election mood remains festive
Political supporters hold politcal signs in Yigo Nov, 3, 2020. Photos by Johana Salinas
On a typical Guam election day, one would expect the aroma of barbecue wafting from canopies outside the polling places, where political supporters hand out free t-shirts. This year, Covid-19 has cancelled all barbeques and free t-shirts were replaced by free facemasks.
With early voting made accessible, thousands had already taken advantage of early voting. Still, the canopies blast hopeful music and wave to any last-minute voters outside the polls.
Candidates and voters reflected on the challenges that beset the island in the past 11 months of the Covid-stricken year.
“The cancelled primary shows we don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Yigo Mayor Rudy Matanane, who is seeking another term.“It's good for some people, but it’s bad for some. Look here in Yigo alone, the Democratic Party had four candidates for mayor. There's only two Republicans. It helps us Republicans. The possibility of a runoff, we’d have to always be ready. It might be the outcome. I don’t think there’ll be another one for the mayoral race in Yigo. I think it’s going to be set for.”
Matanane said he was “very unhappy with how some of us are handling the pandemic. This is an important lesson for Guam.”
He warned that Guam is likely to lose more lives if the community throws caution.
“A lot of people took it for granted that about 80 people have died. A small island like this and 80 people died? I don’t want to say only 80,” he said. “One person can be so important to a lot of people on Guam. That's so scary. We have to learn from our mistakes.”
He said “a lot of leaders didn’t respond the way they should’ve responded. They call themselves ‘our leaders’ but they should’ve rallied more for people to be safe. I hope this is a learning experience.”
Overall, the mayor is proud of this village turnout for the election. “Earlier in the evening there weren’t many people, but later on more people are showing up,” the mayor said.
Unlike most locals, Johnny of Yigo actually was able to vote in both the primary and general elections. “At first, I did the early primary at GEC at the drive-thru, before the cancelled all the votes. I voted early again when they had Saturday voting three weeks ago,” he said.
“Given the circumstances, you have to adapt to changes. Change creates challenges. Challenges is how we manage the campaign in spite of Covid-19. We're doing that. There is a crowd, but we keep to our families or groups of five. And we respect social distancing.”
Kristofer Flores of Yigo feels that the turnout for his village has been great. “I can’t really have a say on the voting until results are final. I feel the generations are coming out to vote because of the pandemic and their experiences,” he said.
Flores believes that the general election could have benefited from a primary. “Cancelling the primary after passing out the ballots, I think GEC could’ve addressed that before,” he said. “But I feel like GEC is handling it fairly well with early voting. In the news, there were 13,000 early voters so I think that was a good turn out.”
Chirag Bhojwani, executive director of the Democratic Party of Guam, did not let the fear of Covid-19 prevent him from waving in Okkodo for the Democratic Party. “Voting now really takes somebody who knows how to get the job done, who has demonstrated experience to get the job done. Right now, we’re working on combating Covid, a disease that’s impacting the entire world,” he said.
Bhojwani said the incoming legislature is faced with bigger challenges in the coming years.
“Guam's tourism and economy has taken a big hit. We need people that have relationships to create new industries,” he said. “We're looking at transshipment based on new data from regional shipping partners. Guam’s location has been a plus for the military—if we could move soldiers, airplanes and ships through Guam, we could do the same with cargo. We have to learn from the lessons from Covid. That's another way Guam can create jobs and bring in millions of dollars.”
Mariel Sacayan also did not let the fear of Covid prevent her from waving at Okkodo for Michael San Nicolas campaign. Sacayan believes that all of Guam’s leaders are trying their past during the crisis. “I think the incumbents have handled it very well,” said Sacayan. “This is everyone's first time handling a pandemic.
Everyone was basically going in the dark not knowing what to do. The way the leaders handled it and seeing from the voters’ turnout, everyone thinks they’re going pretty well.”
Although she was looking forward to the primary, Sacayan understands why GEC had to cancel that vote. “I didn’t agree with GEC cancelling the primary in the beginning, but I understand the reasons why for extra precaution and there was no time. I feel like they handed this general election pretty well, considering the voter turnout I saw at Liguan and here at Okkodo,” she said. “I went in at the early voting and everything was planned out and organized and the waiting time was less than 10 minutes.”
Subscribe to our digital monthly edition