Thousands of Guam voters went to the polls up to four times in 2020, the most in one year, and while a deadly coronavirus was raging.

Here's why:

  • More than 1,500 voted in the Yona special election for mayor on May 30 to replace former Mayor Jesse M. Blas, who had resigned on Jan. 30 amid charges of extortion and bribery. He was later convicted of bribery.
  • Over 2,280 voted early for the Aug. 29 primary election before the election was canceled by law on Aug. 28 because of spikes in the number of COVID-19 deaths, hospitalizations and infection rates that led to a second lockdown.
  • More than 29,370 voted in the Nov. 3, general election to elect mayors, senators and other officials, and nearly 13,000 residents availed of expanded early voting.
  • Because the three-way congressional delegate election didn’t produce a clear winner by getting at least 50% plus one of the votes cast as required by law, a runoff election had to be held between Del. Michael San Nicolas, the top vote-getter, and fellow Democrat former Del. Robert Underwood. San Nicolas won his first reelection bid. Nearly 17,600 voted in the first runoff election for delegate on Nov. 17, and more than 5,000 of them also voted early.

Every time voters went to the polls, it was a voting experience like no other, all because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Voters were required to wear a mask, their body temperature was checked, they had to stay at least 6 feet from other people, and they had to sanitize their hands after touching any surface to avoid catching or spreading the virus that causes COVID-19.

There were no campaign and political rallies or other big gatherings, nor were there handshakes and hugs on a scale that Guam has been accustomed to during election years.

Expanded early voting at the Guam Election Commission office, including curbside voting or voting in one’s car, helped boost voting.

But early voting wasn’t enough to stem a plunge in Guam’s voter turnout, which dropped to its lowest level since 1950, which wasn’t a surprise in the middle of a pandemic. 

The 2020 general election voter turnout was only 51.96%, much lower than the 67% to 92% voter turnout that Guam has seen in general elections over 70 years. 

The first delegate runoff election also showed a record low 31.48% voter turnout.

Initially, GEC and members of the 35th Guam Legislature believed that the COVID-19 wouldn't get in the way of the primary election, the main function of which is to narrow the candidate field among Republicans and Democrats.

Expanded early voting for the primary election began July 30.

But the spikes in COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations and the second lockdown in August forced officials to revisit the idea of canceling the primary elections.

Debates on “the right to live” versus “the right to vote” within and outside legislative halls eventually led to the passage of a bill canceling the primary election.

All certified primary election candidates automatically advanced to the general election.

But even then, elected officials and political parties knew the likelihood of a delegate runoff election was high because of the law that requires 50% plus one of all votes cast in order to win the race.

With no primaries, some villages saw four to six mayoral candidates and there was one recount because of a razor-thin margin between the top two vote-getters, in Yigo.

So instead of COVID-19 keeping most voters indoors as much as possible, some unexpected turn of events made 2020 the busiest election year for Guam.

Haidee Eugenio Gilbert

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