Post Master Timothy Sinsak and Election Commission Board Member Rolynda Jonathan presenting to national leadership of impact COVID on upcoming General Election.

Over 2,000 absentee ballots for the upcoming 11th General Election will be put at risk if nothing is done to change the current election system.
With only one cargo flight a week and United States Postal Service System (USPS) going through service cutbacks, the chance of absentee ballots reaching Palau in time to be counted is very slim according to assessments provided by Palau’s Post Master Timothy Sinsak and the Board of Palau Election Commission to Palau’s national leadership meeting yesterday.
An example cited came from the recently concluded Ngiwal State election where 63 absentee ballots were sent out and only 2 were received on time.
According to Post Master Sinsak, before COVID-19, mail to United States usually takes 7 to 14 days and sometimes even sooner but now he said, it takes 15 days or more to reach the United States. He added that it will take another 15 days or more to get here.
This is due not only to the single cargo flight a week between Guam and Palau but also to the changes happening to the United States Postal Service System (USPS) that handles mail service for Palau internationally. Any changes to USPS have direct impact on Palau’s mailing system.
Yesterday Palau Election Commission sent out 1,345 absentee ballots for the Presidential/Vice Presidential Primary Election which is scheduled for September 22, 2020. The last day for absentee ballots to be received and counted is September 29, 7 days after the election.
Election Commissioner Maria Decherong-Simer reported that EC has to certify Primary Election votes within 15 days, print new ballots for General Election and send out to absentee voters.
Given the one flight a week schedule, it means that they will have to send out the ballots a day after they are certified which leaves only 3 weeks for the ballots to get to the voters and back to Palau to be counted. Given the estimated 15 days-time for mail to reach US and about same or more amount of time to return to Palau, the chances of ballots missing the deadline increases.
Calling the emergency national leadership meeting to address the issue, President Remengesau said that if over 2,000 ballots are sent out and only 60 some are received, “we will bear the wrath of the Palauan people”. He said Palauans will demand why we knew the problems and did not do anything about them.
Possible solutions raised included reducing the time required for certification of votes, extending the date for receiving the absentee ballots, and requesting USPS to increase the schedule of cargo flights to twice a week.
Election Commission Board Chairman Elenita Brel said to urge voters outside to vote as soon as they receive their ballots and mail them right away. She recommended shortening the time for requesting absentee ballots and encouraged people to email in their requests to help expedite the process.
Except for the proposal to increase flight schedule, other proposals would require change in the law. President Remengesau said he is ready to submit a draft bill to address this issue.
Changing the law would also require new regulations and will create confusion in the community countered Speaker Sabino Anastacio, who recommended not changing the law.
“This will be a self-serving act” because all who will be passing the law are candidates themselves said Anastacio. He added that it will not be fair for those that have gone through the process and were not afforded the same treatment.
Remengesau reiterated that this is not about the candidates but about the right of the people to vote.
“The only reason I am calling this special meeting is because we are in the midst of a COVId-19 pandemic, an unusual time where people’s rights are limited and the question for us is, do we care or not care about the maximum participation of Palauans in the voting process, whether inside Palau or outside of Palau,” stated Remengesau.
There are 16,420 Palau registered voters and at each general election year an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 absentee ballots are sent out. During the national referendum in May to amend Palau National Constitution, only 4,478 cast their votes. Voter turn out is expected to be much higher in the upcoming general election and the absentee ballots can have an impact on the election outcome.

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