Amid concerns that COVID-19 may threaten the absentee ballots for the upcoming elections, the Palau Election Commission (EC) has said that it won’t be making changes in the deadlines for ballot submissions. However, it has also said that, if voters keep in mind the deadlines, ballots should be received on time.
The EC says that, as of Thursday, September 17, it has received 728 absentee ballots for the Primary Presidential Election out of the 1,792 absentee ballots which have been sent to registered voters currently abroad, roughly 40%.
Absentee ballots for the Primary Election must be received by the EC no later than September 29, seven days after the election date, and postmarked no later than the day of the election in order to be counted.
Many in Palau, including President Remengesau, have expressed concerns that the reduction in cargo flights due to the COVID pandemic, as well as cutbacks in service of the United States Postal Service (USPS), may cause voters outside Palau to miss their deadline for casting their vote. Palau’s Post Master Timothy Sinsak has previously said that with one cargo flight a week, absentee ballots could take 15 days to reach their destinations and 15 days to return to Palau, which may be too long.
However, Ms. Maria Decherong-Simar, Election Services Administrator of the Palau Election Commission, has said that any change to the protocol would first require a change to the law, and that so far no changes have been made.
“We must go forward with everything [as it is] because we are mandated by law,” said Ms. Decherong-Simar.
But she added that, considering the number of absentee ballots which have already been received from voters on the US mainland, the delay shouldn’t present a problem if the voters keep in mind the timing.
“The thing that the voters need to really look at is the timing,” said Ms. Decherong-Simar. “They must request their ballots on time, so that as soon as the ballot comes out, we can send it over to them.”
In most years, Ms. Decherong-Simar says that the turnout for the absentee ballots is generally less than 50%.
Concerns remain high, however, that the window between the Primary tabulation and the General Election deadline could be too short for all voters abroad to receive and send their ballots.
The EC has said that those who have registered for the Primary Election will automatically be sent ballots for the General Election, without having to first request them. Otherwise, they will need to request in order to receive their ballots.
In Palau, with so many Palauan citizens living abroad, absentee ballots are known to carry weight, in many cases determining the outcome of an election.

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