An Agana Shopping Center function room will serve as Guam’s lone polling location for the Democratic caucus on May 7, when registered Democrats select their party's presidential nominee, national committeeman and committeewoman, and seven delegates to the Democratic National Convention.
Voting was held at multiple polls and coordinated at the precinct level for Guam’s 2008 Democratic caucus. However, the Democratic Party of Guam (DPG) deemed it "logistically impossible" to get enough volunteers out this year to ensure a smooth election process.
“I’d love to have [ballot locations] in the villages, but we just don’t have the organization to do it right now,” said Kin Perez, chairman of DPG. “It’s difficult to ask people to volunteer all day and then bring the ballot box to Hagåtña” for the official vote counting.
Perez said he’s pushed for better party organizing at the precinct level, but that the advanced ages of many active party members prevents them from putting in the long hours needed to coordinate official ballot places across multiple villages.
“Most of these people who used to be precinct chairs and vice chairs are too elderly now. They say they can’t do it.”
Furthermore, Perez said the facilities typically used as polling places - school gyms, for example - are already booked for other events on the caucus day.
One stop shop
While many will be forced to travel further to cast a vote than in previous caucuses, Speaker Judi Won Pat’s office claims the advantages of Agana Shopping Center as a centralized polling place outweigh the disadvantages associated with other options. Won Pat is chairperson of the committee overseeing the caucus.
The Guam Legislature was floated as a potential site but ultimately rejected after concluding that it would require road closures, possesses an insufficient number of parking spaces, and would not be able to handle the expected numbers, leading to an overflow crowd forced to wait outside. Perez points to Agana Shopping Center’s ample parking, four entrances, escalator and elevator, and abundant hallway space to comfortably accommodate a large turnout.
Tables will be set up to process same-day registrants with photo ID and volunteers can provide curb-side voting options for the elderly and disabled. Likewise, voters who are ages 65 or above or have a disability that prevents them from driving can schedule for a Saturday ballot delivery by calling 977-1117 or 483-8478. Delivery ballots orders must be made by noon on Friday, May 6.
A 2008 repeat?
Party officials expect this year’s turnout to rival the roughly 4,500 voters that cast ballots in Guam’s 2008 Democratic caucus, when then-Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton faced off.
“We’re hoping to have the same number of people or more than we had last time,” said Frank Torres, chief of staff for Guam delegate Madeleine Bordallo. Bordallo has publicly endorsed Clinton for president.
In 2008, Obama prevailed by only 7 votes and with a razor-thin margin of 50.1 to 49.9 percent. Some Democrats are projecting a similarly close contest.
“It looks like this might come down to the wire,” said Perez. “[Senator Bernie] Sanders' campaign has put forth some very novel ideas that have made a lot of people excited. Young people in particular; the old guard not so much.”
“Both camps are sending out the message to vote by social media and by calling family members,” Torres said.
Guam Election Commission data show there are just shy of 45,300 registered voters as of February 29, with DPG data showing 22,768 registered Democrats as of last week.
The age factor
While stating that he’d be happy to see 4,500 voters turn up on Saturday, Perez expressed hope that all Democrats will one day feel compelled to participate in local elections. He specifically pointed to the lack of youth engagement in the electoral process here, stating that only eight percent of voters in Guam's 2014 gubernatorial election were under 30 years old.
With a median age of 29.9, Guam has a young population. Perez hopes to tap into the energy of a new generation of voters and see them develop an enthusiasm for politics he remembers Guamanians having in the past.
“I don’t understand why there’s not more passion,” he said. “Politics is the only game in town. When I was younger we had massive meetings in the villages and everyone would come out. A robber could have taken everybody’s stuff because no one was at home.”
“This election is important for Guam. If this thing can encourage young people to come out and vote, that’s a good thing,” said Perez. “They should exercise their voice because its the only right they have” and best opportunity to help shape the Democratic Party’s national platform.