Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero says only Chamorros should vote in a political status plebiscite. Congressman Michael San Nicolas says no one should be denied the right to vote. In a debate produced by Kandit News Group and Choice Broadcasting Stations (93.3 FM The Point), the candidates for governor explained their opposite positions on the topic.
“We have not been given an opportunity to determine our political status,” Ms. Leon Guerrero said in the May 31 debate. The ball, however, was in GovGuam’s hands for 22 years, including the first year of the Leon Guerrero administration. During that period, no political status vote was ever held.
In 1997, the Guam Legislature created the law under which a Commission on Decolonization would complete a series of tasks that would trigger the Guam Election Commission to hold a political status plebiscite. In such a plebiscite, eligible voters would choose whether they desire independence from the United States, a free association with the United States, or statehood.
According to that law, only “native inhabitants of Guam” would be eligible to vote.
In 2012, Arnold Davis sued the government of Guam in federal court to declare the law unconstitutional. In 2019, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals declared the law violated the Constitution’s Fifteenth Amendment, because it denied suffrage to anyone who was not Chamorro.
Despite the ruling, GovGuam continues to fund the commission, the Guam Legislature has not changed the mandate, and Ms. Leon Guerrero believes Congress should ameliorate the situation by passing a federal law that would make a Chamorro-only vote binding.
“I support, and I have made public, that I feel it should just be for native inhabitants,” she said, adding, “We have seen that Puerto Rico put in for a binding vote on political status. That’s something I think that should not just be talked about but it should be a very concrete action that this congressman should do, and has not.”
“I believe everybody should be able to vote,” Mr. San Nicolas countered, adding “and one of the things we need to be is up front with our people. When the governor talks about Puerto Rico, what she’s not being clear about is that Puerto Rico lets everybody vote. They didn’t limit the vote to just native Taino indians in Puerto Rico, they let everybody vote. And that’s why the United States is able to advance legislation in Congress because the vote conforms with the U.S. standard of universal suffrage and allowing everybody to vote.”
Indeed, according to reports by Reuters and in the Associated Press, Puerto Rico has held several non-binding political status plebiscites, each of them allowing all registered voters of the commonwealth to vote.
Guam has not held even one.