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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center

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Guam Decolonization Plebiscite Registration Continues
Booth at Micronesian Festival raises awareness

By Cameron Miculka

HAGTA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Oct. 9, 2012) – Amid the food, crafts and music at this weekend's Micronesian Island Festival, a single booth was working to register those wanting to vote in a plebiscite on the decolonization of Guam.

In the middle of Gov. Joseph Flores Beach Park at Ypao Beach, a group of staff members of Sen. Ben Pangelinan were adding voters to the Decolonization Registry, talking to festival attendees and educating the public about the plebiscite and what it means for Guam.

"We're just trying to get people registered," said Lisa Dames, Pangelinan's chief of staff. "We need to get the numbers up."

For the past three years, Pangelinan's office has had a tent at the festival to register voters for the plebiscite. Dames explained that this effort has been a personal cause of the senator who is running for re-election.

While Dames could not say how many voters had been registered so far, she did say that this year has been one of the better years.

Last year, said Dames, festival organizers placed the registry's tent so far away from the major points of the festival that it was difficult to attract attention. This time, however, the registry was right in the middle of all the food and craft tents.

This meant more people were coming up to talk about the registry.

"It's so much better all around," she said.

This isn't the only place Pangelinan's staff has been registering voters. Dames said the office recently registered voters at the University of Guam graduation.

"Every opportunity we can get, we're there," said Dames.

The office also registers voters at the senator's office in Hgata. Dames explained that most of the staff is deputized to register voters and those who are interested in registering can stop by to do so.

Disenfranchised

Even as someone disenfranchised by the registry's rules, Dames said she supports the limitations on who can register for the plebiscite. According to Guam law, registration is limited to those, and to the descendants of those, who were naturalized under the Organic Act.

The issue is currently being challenged by a lawsuit in federal court.

"It needs to be a Chamorro vote to define what Guam's political status is," said Dames.

That sentiment was shared by Ignacio R. Camacho, who registered Sunday for the plebiscite.

"There is an ethnic group called Chamorro and this is their homeland," said Camacho.

Camacho said a plebiscite would go a long way to recognize the native population of Guam, though he did not yet know how he would vote on the issue.

"It's a good start -- not the end -- but a good start to recognizing the indigenous people," he said.

He, like Dames, said the registry should not be opened to all Guam residents.

"The determination of Guam as a land of the Chamorros has nothing to do with the current residents," he said. "If you're not Chamorro, it's not your issue."

As of last year, more than 4,000 people were on the Decolonization Registry.

Guam law requires that the island's native inhabitants vote on the three political status options -- statehood, independence or free association with the United States. But in order for the vote to take place, 70 percent of those determined to be native inhabitants, or their descendants, must be signed up on the Decolonization Registry.

Based on estimates of those living on the island in 1950, the number needed to register to have the plebiscite is about 31,500, according to Pacific Daily News files.

In order to vote in the plebiscite, however, those on the Decolonization Registry would also have to be registered voters, officials have said.

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