By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Any changes that may be made to Guam’s election laws must take effect next year, senators agreed yesterday, noting that this year’s election season has practically started with several candidate packets already distributed.
Senators voted to adopt Sen. Joe San Agustin’s amendment to Bill 173-36 that would delay the implementation of election reforms until Jan. 1, 2023 to avoid any confusion on candidate requirements and prevent any potential lawsuits.
Bill 173-36, introduced by Sen. James Moylan and co-authored by San Agustin, proposes to, among other things, cancel primary elections under “certain circumstances.”
Under the bill, “if fewer than the maximum number of partisan candidates who can advance to the general election are running in both political parties in any election year, the primary election shall not take place for that contest for that election year.”
In 2006, then governor Felix Camacho signed a similar law related to the cancellation of primaries.
GEC executive director Maria Pangelinan said this statute was repealed by the Election Reform Act of 2012, docketed as Public Law 31-255.
"Currently, there is no mechanism to cancel the primary election if there are a number of candidates equal to or fewer than the number of positions to be filled. Bill 173 would recreate that cancellation mechanism," Pangelinan said.
Moylan said P.L. 31-255 repealed and reenacted many sections of the election statute.
"Among those sections which were not returned was the language associated with canceling primary elections if the number of candidates in a partisan race did not exceed the maximum number which could advance to the general election per party," he added.
At Monday’s session, senators voted to adopt Sen. Telo Taitague’s amendment to further expand the list by adding the positions of public auditor and attorney general.
“These are nonpartisan elections. In the event that there is only one person running for this position, that individual goes to the general elections, and if there are two, they go directly to the general elections and by law, the individual who reaches the higher number of votes wins.”
“We found that, in many cases, usually only one candidate is running for these positions,” she added.
Pangelinan said current law requires candidates for the Office of Public Accountability and Attorney General of Guam to be nominated in the primary election for placement on the general election ballot.
Elections for these offices require separate ballots and entail costs to the Guam Elections Commission. Cancelling an unnecessary primary would bring savings to GEC, Taitague said.
San Agustin said the amendment was consistent with the recommendation made by GEC in a prior hearing.
Guam is scheduled to hold primaries on Aug, 27. General elections are slated for Nov. 8. This year’s elections include the gubernatorial race.
Bill 173-36 also provides a mechanism to address any vacancy in the congressional delegate seat by holding a special election based on plurality vote.
"Part of the election bill was to address some process in the event there is a vacancy for that seat. We currently don’t have a process in place for that seat, as we do for all other elected seats," Moylan said.
The candidate with the highest number of votes wins the race.
"For this case yes, since it is a special election. The rules for a regular election still remain status quo, which is 50 percent plus one, or it goes to a runoff," Moylan said.
“Regarding objections to delaying implementation of Bill 173 until after this year’s election, I and others can only speculate for whom the bill as proposed is intended – as they have no problems changing the rules in the middle of the game,” Taitague said.
“The changes to Bill 173, particularly the Jan. 1, 2023 effective date, ensures there are no questions, no thoughts in people's minds out there that we are here changing the requirements and the processes of how we address elections. Because ultimately, elections are the one place where the people of Guam get to determine who they want for leadership and we all certainly don't want a cloud of suspicion over that process,” she added.