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Election Office policy on unused leftover ballots at polling stations questioned

Accountability of such ballots cited as a concern

A member of the Paepaetele Mapu S. Jamias campaign team has questioned the Election Office policy on unused leftover ballots and has also called for the modernization of the local election process by using voting machines, in the 21st Century.

Rosie Fuala’au Tago Lancaster was the poll watcher for Papaetele at the Nu’uuli polling station and the question she raised in her Nov. 10 letter to Uiagalelei is identical to concerns that have been raised in past election years regarding the “disposal” of unused left over ballots during election time.

“My main concern and question is based on ‘accountability of unused’ or blank and leftover ballots from each polling station on election night,” said Lancaster in her letter, adding that she questioned and voiced her concern for accountability of leftover ballots at the Nu’uuli polling station.

In response, the Election Office team leader stated that “all leftover and unused ballots are ‘counted’ by his team after the official count of casted ballots inside the ballot boxes was done” and returned to the election office, she said.

Lancaster said she “objected” and voiced concern about the process of the unused ballots being returned to the Election Office “and not shredded” right away. She claims that the representative for one of the gubernatorial teams present that evening concurred with her.

“Therefore, all 393 left over ballots from the Nu’uuli polling station were ‘stamped’ unused” by the election staff before the ballot boxes were opened and the official count (was) conducted and underway, she wrote.

“Accountability and protecting the integrity of the election process should be a concern and priority. The system should not be compromised,” she wrote to Uiagalelei. “Every effort should be made to protect the ‘integrity’ of the system and our democracy.”

She also said that transporting unused or leftover ballots after the official counts at polling stations were completed, raised more questions than answers.

“The leftover ballots should be shredded and destroyed at the polling station, right there and before ballot boxes are opened for the ‘official count’,” she recommends. “This will prevent any data manipulation, but more importantly, safeguard the final and official count witnessed by all camps’ representatives present at polling stations.”

Before the next general election, she suggested that modern technology ‘voting’ machines be installed and utilized in American Samoa.

“We’re in the 21st Century and it’s time for American Samoa to integrate into the 21st Century when it comes to voting,” she said. “Manual counting and tally marks of official ballots at polling stations on election night are and should be a thing of the past. Again, we are in the 21st Century.”

American Samoa uses paper ballots to vote. And it takes time to tally the results, or count the ballots, with American Samoa still using the old fashion system of people — who are election officials — with chalk in hand, standing in front of a chalkboard to get the results.

When asked last week, long time local political observers say that using electronic voting devices to cast ballots and electronic count would require a major overhaul in local election law, pertaining to the “voting process” and “counting” provisions of the law.

“Of course the government — the Legislature and Executive branches — will have to come up with funding to purchase electronic equipment,” said one observer. “And the Election Office will have to conduct public education awareness so that electors are familiarized when the voting machine works.”

In the past four elections, there have been local and off island Samoa News readers, who called for a change in the way voting is carrying out in American Samoa, with use of voting and counting equipment instead of the current practice — chalk and chalkboard tallies by hand.