Debate continues over impact of changes in Primary Election laws

by Ken Wetmore, KUAM News
Thursday, June 17, 2004

As the 27th Guam Legislature began debate on Speaker Ben Pangelinan's Bill 306, which sought the reform of Guam's Primary Election law, one debate was on whether the bill actually solves anything. Republican senator Bob Klitzkie is one of two attorneys in the Legislature, and says he's not sure Guam had the same problem as was being dealt with in the state of California.

He challenged that even if Guam does his reading of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals' decision, such seems to indicate Speaker Pangelinan's bill would still be in violation. "I think that the system that we have is not a bad system. I'm not sure I would want to replace it with a system that is likewise constitutionally infirmed," the freshman policymaker told KUAM News.

Senator Klitzkie's position is similar to that of Guam Attorney General Douglas Moylan. AG Moylan believes in order to be in conformance with the Ninth Circuit Court's opinion, voters must publicly declare their party in order to vote in the Primary Election. Democrat Senator Randy Cunliffe (himself a practicing attorney) disagrees with both the AG and his Republican colleague. He says the Ninth Circuit Court's opinion can be looked at in more than one way.

Said Senator Cunliffe, "I don't think it's necessarily a problem. Different court decisions address different issues, and you have to read all the decisions; you can't just rely on one decision because what happens like in a decision like in California - they are addressing a specific instance that happened in California and may not overlap into Guam."

Guam Democrat Party chairman and attorney Mike Phillips says it is his belief that Bill 306 will solve any problem Guam may have with holding primary elections in September. "It's a very fair compromise because it ensures the parties retain their constitutional rights to free association, and just as importantly it respects the individual voters privacy rights in the booth," he stated.

In court documents the Republican Party has said they wish to abstain from participating in the litigation over the legality of Guam's Primary Election Law, but also wrote they support the position taken by the Guam Attorney General. Still, Guam Republican Party chair Phil Flores says they do not feel voters should have to identify to which what they belong in order to vote in the Primary Election. He explained his rationale by saying, "We don't want to see where someone has to come in and say, 'Oh, I'm a Republican and I'm a Democrat', because some people are a little bit embarrassed we don't want to do anything hindering someone's ability to walk in that door and cast their vote."

AG Moylan says while the two main political parties on Guam may say they welcome primaries wherein voters don't have to declare their party affiliation publicly, there's a fundamental problem surrounding what's in writing. He told KUAM News, "There could potentially be, based on their bylaws and the way they worded it, it still does not permit people that are not from their membership to vote in their election until such time as they amend it. It could still be an issue".

Ultimately, if Bill 306 is voted and signed into law it will be up to Guam Superior Court Presiding Judge Alberto Lamorena to decide if it is the solution to the problem. If the bill doesn't make it into the law, the judge will also have the job of deciding what will happen. A hearing on the matter is set for June 28 of this month.

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