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Residents can’t vote in general elections

APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, June 2, 2008) – Senator Hillary Clinton has called on the United States government to allow American Samoans to vote in that country’s Presidential Elections.

Chairwoman of the United States Election Assistance Commission, Rosemary Rodriguez told the Samoa Observer that Senator Clinton has raised the same issue for voters in Puerto Rico and Guam.

"They’ve already had the primaries in American Samoa," said Mrs Rodriguez, who spoke to the journalists on the US State Department’s "The Nuts & Bolts of an American Election: An Insider Look at How to Run an Election" tour. "And there has been discussion since the (last) weekend about giving them full voting rights in the presidential election. Senator Clinton raised the possibility and she’s very keen on it, judging from her comments."

Earlier this year, American Samoa Governor Togiola Tulafono endorsed Clinton for the Presidential race, ahead of Barack Obama.

"I believe in Senator Hillary Clinton because she talks like one of us, and she inspires confidence, warmth, and trust for all people," Governor Togiola is quoted as saying at the time.

Another prominent American Samoa leader, Fagafaga Daniel Langkilde, former member of the American Samoa House of Representatives and of the Democratic National Committee, said: "At a time when our country faces so many complex challenges, we need a leader with the strength and the experience to make change happen starting from day one. That leader is Hillary Clinton."

Although residents in US territories can vote in the nominating contests, they can not cast ballots in the US general election, in November.

Mrs Rodriguez said it "would be difficult to confer full voting rights on American Samoans without "statehood."

"And I don’t know if they (American Samoa) even want that statehood," she said.

"I think that if this conversation proceeds, we’re going to have to know what they want, what would be best for the United States and I think it will take a long time to figure it out.

I do know that we work with them, we fund their voting equipment because they elect a representative, not a voting representative, but a representative to the Congress. They qualify for our funds."

The issue of voting rights for American Samoans has been a delicate one for some time.

At the beginning of the year, American writer Jonathan Rubin questioned the US government over American Samoa’s voting rights.

In a piece titled "Can American Samoans Vote? Can they affect the presidential race?" he wrote:

"After losing the Jan. 26 South Carolina primary to Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton pledged to continue her fight for the White House.

"She said, ‘We now turn our attention to the millions of Americans who will make their voices heard in Florida and the 22 other states as well as American Samoa who will vote on February 5.’"

"Wait a second, what kind of voting rights do they have in Samoa?

Very few. The 57,000 residents of American Samoa, a tiny group of islands near Australia, cannot vote in national elections, but they do hold presidential primaries and send nine delegates to the nominating conventions for each party.

Most years, this handful has little effect on the outcomes at the conventions. (For comparison, Florida sends 114 delegates.) But in a tight race like that between Democrats Obama and Clinton, every delegate might come into play, so candidates reach out to smaller and smaller constituencies for votes."

"Beyond the presidential primaries, territories like American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S."

Virgin Islands have limited voting powers. Their inability to participate on the federal level results from the status of their residents: American Samoans are considered U.S. nationals, not citizens.

"They can elect one nonvoting delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives, who is permitted to cast votes on amendments to a bill but not its final passage. (The 580,000 U.S. citizens living in Washington, D.C., get the same deal in Congress. But they can vote for president, sending three members to the Electoral College.)"

"American Samoa became a U.S. territory in 1900, but it didn’t get its congressional delegate or the right to hold presidential primaries until 1981. With one exception in 1996, Democratic residents of the islands have always gone to the polls on Super Tuesday. (Republicans will vote on Feb. 23.) This year, for the first time, American Samoa will keep the polls open only from 9 to 11 a.m., so the announcement of the results will coincide with those in the United States many time zones away.

"No presidential candidate has ever visited American Samoa, but both Sens. Clinton and Obama have local campaign offices. The Clinton campaign announced Jan. 11 that it had gained the endorsement of American Samoa Gov. Togiola T.A. Tulafono and other Samoan delegates."

Samoa Observer: www.samoaobserver.ws/

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