American Samoa Election Reform Law Banning Free Food May Have Dampened Voter Turnout In 2014

Statement made as potential context for upcoming election, Political observers: counter-narrative always a drop in voters during an election year when there is no gubernatorial race

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, August 08, 2016) – Chief election officer Uiagalelei Dr. Lealofi Uiagalelei suspects that the reason for the drop in electors who cast ballots in the 2014 general election was the new election law prohibiting giving free food — including barbeque plates to the public — on Election Day.

Uiagalelei made the assumption during the Election Office presentation at last Thursday’s cabinet meeting, held at the Election Office conference room. Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga requested the presentation saying that it’s “important that we all understand the [election] process.”

Lolo told directors, that no matter whom they support in the November 8 general election, it’s “your duty to make sure that we share [the information] with our people, your employees, with everybody, and help our people understand, their right to vote.”

Uiagalelei said that as of last Wednesday close to 17,000 electors are on the official voter roll with the voter registration still ongoing, to close at 4:30p.m. Oct. 11. (Thereafter the Election Office releases the final list of registered voters to candidates running for public office).

He also spoke about the decline in the number of electors who voted in the 2014 election, which was only for the Congressional and local House races, as compared to the one held in 2012 — covering the gubernatorial, Congressional and local House races.

Uiagalelei suspects that the drop in the number of voters casting ballots in 2014 was due to a new law, which became effective that year, barring the giving of food — including BBQ plates — to the public.

However, as Samoa News reported in past elections and also noted over the weekend by long-time political observers, there is always a drop of voters casting ballots during the election year when there is no gubernatorial race.

According to Election Office data presented at the cabinet meeting, there were 16,780 registered voters in 2014, but only 60.3% (or 10,780) electors cast ballots, compared to 17,769 registered voters in 2012 - with a gubernatorial race - with 74% (or 13,178) voters who cast ballots.

In the 2010 election, when there was no gubernatorial race, total registered voters was 16,124 with 68.3% (or 11,019) who cast ballots; while in 2008 election, which includes the gubernatorial race, total registered voters at 16,780 with 12,419 (or 74%) of voters cast ballots.

Uiagalelei said the Election office maintains a centralized database of voter registration and that the election process is very secure for this year. Additionally, election officials would be heading to the Manu’a islands soon to conduct another round of voter registration.

Uiagalelei’s staff provided directors a 10-page Election Office information package that covers a wide range of election issues including requirements when a voter changes his or her voting county, which is an issue that raises a lot of questions from electors and candidates in past elections.

According to the Chief Election Officer, there will be 45 polling stations territory-wide on Election Day and the Election Office will be meeting soon with the Office of Samoan Affairs about their assistance, especially from village mayors, in the villages on Election Day.

Like in past election years, the Election Office works with village majors and county chiefs at the polling stations to ensure that the election is secure and goes smoothly. There is also the presence of police around polling stations.

Part of the Election Office presentation at the cabinet meeting included a display and explanation of the three sample ballot boxes during Election Day for the gubernatorial, Congressional and local House races.

Uiagalelei said his office plans to start training in October for temporary workers who will be hired to work on Election Day and that an official announcement will be made once they start recruiting these individuals.

Lolo asked Uiagalelei and his staff to make the same presentation and explanation on KVZK-TV for the benefit of not only the public but also candidates seeking public officer. Lolo requested Office of Political Status, Constitution and Federal Relations executive director, Tapa’au Dr. Daniel Aga to assist the Election Office in this task.

As for temporary workers, Lolo asked directors to look at this issue when it comes to ASG employees taking leave time to work on Election Day to ensure compliance with personnel policy.

Lolo says there are others in the community in need of jobs and should be given the chance instead of ASG employees taking leave to work on Election Day for the Election Office and get paid.

The governor reminded directors to make sure that ASG employees are fully aware of their rights to vote for the candidate of their choosing during this election year. He asked directors to ensure that the election and campaign process — no matter whom the director votes for in the gubernatorial race — is clean of any problems “because this is very important to the public.”

Directors were once again reminded by the governor not to use government facilities, properties — including ASG vehicles — for campaign activities. 

According to the governor, the news media have contacted him a couple of times about the use of ASG vehicles for campaign purposes as well as non-government work. And his response is that this is not happening at all.

The governor then suggested to the news media to not come up with news of things that are not happening but to report on things that are actually happening. However, “if this is happening, that means” he and Lt. Gov. Lemanu Peleti Mauga are not aware of it.

Of interest, is that an ASG vehicle belonging to the Governor’s Office (license number GO-01), was among some government cars witnessed by a Samoa News reporter at the Kanana Fou compound during last month’s Congregational Christian Church of American Samoa (CCCAS) conference.

Lemanu said, during the cabinet meeting, that while he was in Honolulu last month, he was still getting calls from the territory about ASG cars being used for other purposes, but not ASG work. Additionally, there was also a report of a spouse of a director or ASG employee driving the ASG vehicle while the director or employee was sitting in the passenger seat.

He said everyone must comply with the proper use of government vehicles and facilities at all times including campaign time.

The Samoa News
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