American Samoa Candidate Calls For Voter Education

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Electors should be reminded there is no-runoff in congressional race

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, Oct. 29, 2014) – The campaign chairman for Congressional candidate Aumua Amata has called on the Election Office to conduct a voter education campaign reminding electors that there is no run-off in the race for the Delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives due to a federal law, which requires that the candidate with a majority of the votes wins outright on election day.

Pulu Ae Ae Jr.’s letter on Monday this week to Chief Election Officer, Tuaolo M. Fruean, urged the government to make public service announcements on local media to let voters know that the candidate who gets the most votes during the Nov. 4 election will win the delegate's seat.

The federal law, as a result of a bill — known as the ‘plurality bill’ — sponsored by Congressman Faleomavaega Eni, went into effect in the 2006 election pertaining to the local Congressional race.

Prior to 2006, the local election law called for a run-off election two weeks after the general election, if none of the candidates in the general election garnered 50 percent-plus-one vote.

With nine candidates — including Faleomavaega — Samoa News has received comments and reactions from several voters, who say that "for sure there will be a run-off", to which Samoa News has pointed to the federal law, or "think plurality bill’, which means there is no run off.

During yesterday’s cabinet meeting, Tuaolo stressed to directors that there is no run off in the Congressional race. "So a candidate can win even with just two votes," he said when speaking about preparations for the 2014 election.

Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga added that this change — with no run off — followed action by Congress. He suggested that directors help explain this issue and other election matters to the community.

PULU’S REQUEST

In his letter, Pulu said that their campaign volunteers, who have been canvassing villages, have been alarmed to discover that many voters are unaware of the federal law for the delegate election and that the winner in the general election no longer must receive a majority of the votes cast.

Pulu pointed out that in the 2006 election, Faleomavaega was re-elected with only 47% of the vote cast.

With an "unprecedented nine candidates... it is distinctly possible that the successful candidate will finish with less than 50 percent of the votes," Pulu wrote and pointed out that many voters are not aware of the federal law and "have told us they had planned to vote for someone else to fulfill a personal or family obligation, knowing that person was unlikely to win and then vote for Aumua Amata in the runoff."

"When apprised there would be no runoff, one voter even told us he would now be calling his family back together to discuss the issue in light of this new information," Pulu wrote, and requested the Election Office conduct a media voter education campaign that there is no runoff.

Pulu also suggested that large signs be posted at the 44-polling places on election day to remind voters that there will be only one election for delegate to Congress and that there will not be a runoff between the two candidates receiving the most votes.

"As you know, there is much at stake in this election and it would be unfortunate if any voters wasted their ballots on candidates who cannot win and deprived themselves of the opportunity to vote for a candidate who can win, thus unintentionally altering the results," Pulu said.

Copies of Pulu’s letter were also to be sent to the governor, attorney general, and the other eight candidates.

OTHER CANDIDATES VOICE THOUGHTS ON PLURALITY BILL

Paepaetele Mapu Saei Jamias thanked Amata for bringing out this issue, but also said "I am very aware of the ‘plurality’ vote for a long time and I have told all my campaign volunteers this same thing — that someone can win by just one vote."

"So spread the word that there is no run off and it's very important for everyone that you only vote once— no run off," he said.

While he has not received any complaints regarding the fact that there is no run off election, Tua’au Kereti Matautia Jr. said that he does not believe it's proper for a candidate to "basically ask the Election Office to conduct a voter campaign" just days before the election.

"The Election Office is to stay neutral from any form of campaigning for any issue," he said.

Rosie Fualaau Tago Lancaster said she was aware there is no run off in the Congressional race and a majority of her supporters also know. "And those who didn’t know, I have explained to them the federal law," she said.

Mark Ude said that while he has not received any feedback or concerns on the issue raised in Pulu’s letter, "it's important [for voters] to know there is no run off."

As for the incumbent, Faleomavaega said neither he nor his committee has received any concerns that there is no run-off in the Congressional race.

BACKGROUND

Prior to 2006, Faleomavaega had several times called on the government — including the Fono — to pass appropriation legislation requiring a primary election to be held in August or June every election year. However, at least four bills introduced in the Fono to hold primary elections — for both Congressional and gubernatorial races — never made it out of committee and therefore were automatically defeated.

Without local primary election laws, Faleomavaega then introduced the plurality bill in 2004, which Congress passed and signed into law the following year.

The federal law "requires a plurality, instead of a majority, to elect the American Samoan Delegate to the United States House of Representatives and authorizes the American Samoan legislature to establish primary elections for the office of Delegate" if they choose.

While there was a lot of local opposition — including ASG testimonies in Congress on the "plurality bill" — Faleomavaega had argued that the practice of run-off elections deprived members of the Armed Forces on active duty and other overseas voters the opportunity to vote in local federal elections, due to the lack of flight frequency to and from American Samoa.

He said the delay in delivery of mail and limited air service since the events of Sept. 11, 2001 made it difficult for absentee ballots for run-offs to be sent off island and returned in time to be counted during a run-off election.

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