The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the daily lives and activities of everyone on Guam, leaving many Guamanians to wonder how they will be able to vote safely. With the primary and general elections approaching quickly, many of them have called for safer ways to cast their ballots.

Local lawmakers responded by introducing and passing a measure that is an excellent first step toward safer in-person voting. Bill 330 aims to limit voter congestion at the polls by allowing everyone to vote early at the Guam Election Commission’s office.

However, this new law does not do enough to limit exposure to the virus. Thankfully, the remedy is simple: Voters on Guam should be permitted to safely and securely cast absentee ballots this November.

With new coronavirus cases on the rise, the GEC is wisely preparing to further change how they conduct in-person voting beyond what Bill 330 permitted. According to their latest projections, they could spend close to $1 million on this year’s primary election, with more than half of it going toward COVID-19 safety protocols. Included in this expenditure is the hiring of 150 more poll workers to sanitize voting booths after each use. However, it is uncertain that the commission will be able to hire any additional workers since they are already short by 100 for the upcoming election. This staff shortage adds another layer of uncertainty to the safety of in-person voting in November. But, absentee voting could help to remedy this issue.

Giving residents the ability to vote in absentia would not only minimize person-to-person contact at the polls, but would also allow the GEC to expend fewer taxpayer dollars and rely on a smaller staff to conduct the election. However, Guam currently only allows ballots to be mailed to off-island voters, such as college students and military personnel, and the newly signed law does nothing to expand vote-by-mail options. This leaves most Guamanians with only one option: Vote in person, which could be disastrous for those who are more vulnerable to the coronavirus.

This applies to many, since 30% of Guam’s voters in 2018 were 60 years or older.

We’ve already seen what it looks like when voters don’t have the option to vote by mail. Earlier this year, voters in Wisconsin were subjected to long lines and extensive wait times at the polls; and unfortunately, some ended up contracting COVID-19. Elected leaders on Guam don’t need to replicate this situation. They need to start looking at safer, alternative forms of voting that abide by CDC guidelines so voters can avoid big crowds and keep a safe distance from others.

While some critics claim that mail-in voting is susceptible to fraud, it’s proven to be a safe and secure method of participating in elections. It is also popular — 67% of Americans support this mode for the November elections. The risk for fraud can also be reduced through procedures such as keeping clean voter registration rolls, tracking ballots via barcodes and verifying signatures on ballots. States such as Oregon already use mail-in voting and absentee voter fraud is scant. In about 20 years, there have only been two proven cases of absentee voter fraud in Oregon, according to the Heritage Foundation.

Voting is vital to our form of government, and it is the duty of local leaders to ensure that people are able to do so, safely. Absentee voting is the answer to this dilemma. This will allow Guam voters to take part in this election without fearing for their health. Lawmakers should act now to pass a bill that allows for the Guam Election Commission to provide all Guam voters the choice to cast their ballots through absentee voting.

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