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By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (November 15, 2000 - PIDP/CPIS)---A challenge was filed in the High Court Tuesday objecting to the unofficial results in the territorial gubernatorial race.

The suit was filed by second place finisher Senator Leala Peter Reid against Chief Election Officer Soliai T. Fuimaono, alleging that the officer made so many mistakes and/or allowed election officials to perpetrate so much fraud, that it is impossible to state with certainty that any candidate received a winning margin.

Earlier it was announced that incumbent Governor Tauese Sunia won by 341 votes over Senator Leala during the November 7 General Election.

Until the legal challenge is laid to rest, the Chief Election Officer will be unable to certify Tauese Sunia as the next Governor of American Samoa. It will most likely be several weeks before the court proceedings draw to a close and a decision is announced.

If the decision is in favor of Senator Leala a new election will be ordered. If the decision goes against him the Chief Election Officer will be able to proceed with the certification of Tauese Sunia as the winner of the gubernatorial election.

The lawsuit does not name Tauese Sunia as a defendant. The only defendant is Soliai, but Tauese could ask the court to allow him to intervene.

The challenge was filed on the last day allowed by statute.

The Chief Election Officer will be given five days to respond in writing, and then the Appellate division of the High Court will schedule a hearing "as soon as it reasonably may be heard."

The hearing will be conducted as a trial, with witnesses, lawyers, cross-examination, evidence, etc.

The 13-page suit alleges that it was "unfair, unequal, arbitrary and capricious" for the Election Office to prevent voters from voting absentee if they happened to have departed the island before the ballots were printed.

The suit condemned the Election Office for disenfranchising qualified off-island absentee voters and "failing to provide proper security for absentee ballots; using the rule-making process to attempt to subvert the law; failing to require election officials to verify that the number of ballots cast was equal to the number of voters who actually voted; and failing to publish a list of elections officials so fair criticism and comment about their assignments might be obtained."

Taken together, Senator Leala alleges these actions "evidenced a wholesale disregard for the laws and procedures inherent to the conduct of free, fair and open elections."

"Frivolous" is how Governor Tauese described the suit when asked for comments.

"I’m disappointed with Leala. I had held him up to a higher level of respect and believed him to be a fair sportsman. My own people had urged me to challenge certain aspects of the election preparations, but I had refused to do so as I think the decent thing to do is to avoid getting people riled up," Tauese was quoted as saying by the Samoa News.

"I have been involved in many campaigns here, and I thought the election was the smoothest, most efficient one I have seen," Tauese said.

"My campaign committee and I felt no concern over the conduct of the election and did not see any basis for allegations of fraud, misconduct or mistakes. That is why I think the suit is frivolous and why I am disappointed in Leala for backing his committee members (who urged a legal challenge.)"

Tauese said he has not yet decided whether he would intervene in the case.

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