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By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (November 20, 2000 - PIDP/CPIS)---A panel of judges convened Monday morning to hear testimony pertaining to a legal challenge filed by Senator Leala Peter Reid against Chief Election Officer Soliai T. Fuimaono regarding the results of the November 7th governor’s race.

Senator Leala came in second in the governor’s race. Incumbent Governor Tauese Sunia was first.

The legal challenge has resulted in the cancellation of all cases in the High Court of American Samoa.

The election case has attracted a lot of attention in the territory and resulted in increased police security.

The legal challenge alleges that Soliai improperly handled the November 7th election and that fraud was also perpetrated.

No allegations were filed against Governor Tauese Sunia or the three other candidates that ran for governor.

The petition asks the Court to invalidate the election and order a new one, or to simply order a run-off election between Tauese and Leala. The challenge has prevented Tauese from been declared the official winner of the race.

According to local election law, the ensuing "judgment may invalidate the election on the grounds that a correct result cannot be ascertained because of a mistake or fraud on the part of the election officials; or because it cannot be determined that a certain candidate received a majority of the votes cast and were elected."

If the court rules the election invalid, the Governor will be instructed to call a new election within 46 days of November 7th. However, if the court is not persuaded that the election bears invalidation, it will order the Chief Election officer to certify the previously unofficial results of the election.

Responding to the challenge, Soliai denies allegations of wrongdoing, misconduct, mistakes and fraud.

Leala accused Soliai of rejecting some absentee voters’ ballots.

Soliai said some ballots were rejected, for example, "because the individuals were not registered to vote in American Samoa, or the individuals failed to provide a forwarding address, or because they failed to respond to a request for verification of their status."

He said that a team of election officials delivered absentee ballots to the various polling places during election day.

The ones that came on Hawaiian Airlines the night before the election were adequately secured against been mishandled, he said.

Soliai said the local absentee ballots for the governor’s race were delivered to the polling stations in locked ballots boxes under police escort.

It’s still not known how long the court case will last.

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