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Governor wants an Election Day contingency plan for COVID-19

American Samoa Election Office
Residents and voters are also raising concerns about election

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — While the Election Office continues preparation for the usual election process as well as proclaiming Election Day in American Samoa, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga said that what’s needed is a plan to carry out the voting process in the event of a coronavirus outbreak on island.

The COVID-19 pandemic is having an impact on the 2020 election across the US and its territories as officials focus on mail-in ballots, but U.S. news outlets are reporting this is hampered by the US Postal Service cutting back on some services and eliminating others.

While American Samoa has so far no confirmed cases, residents and voters are also raising questions about what would happen to local elections in November if there is a local COVID-19 case, resulting in the government raising the virus threat-level, which calls for much more stringent restrictions, including prohibiting all types of public gatherings.

The governor, during Monday’s cabinet meeting, said he is giving the Election Office one more week to prepare a plan of how the election would be carried out on Election Day in November in the event American Samoa has a confirmed COVID-19 case or an outbreak of the pandemic.

Lolo informed Chief Election Officer, Dr. Lealofi Uiagalelei that the plan, should come with recommendations on how to carry out the election process in the midst of an outbreak. Specially, how electors will cast their ballots — for example, from their homes, at designated polling stations, etc.

According to the governor, the Election Office’s current preparation is for a usual election day, but a plan needs to be in place for a situation like the current pandemic. Lolo said, he needs to receive and review a plan, which will also be forwarded to the US Interior Department — telling the federal agency what American Samoa plans to do in the event of an outbreak.

Uiagalelei has already allowed local active electors, who are stranded off island due to border closure, to vote absentee but supporters for several candidates are concerned with the mail-in ballots if Hawaiian Airlines flights between Honolulu and Pago Pago remain suspended through December.

While there is a weekly cargo flight to and from the territory long-time political observers told Samoa News last week that there’s no guarantee that all mail-in ballots will arrive on time to be counted.

“The government, mainly the Election Office should include in their plan to the governor and DOI a recommendation on how to address absentee ballots which covers not only local registered voters stranded off island but also our sons and daughters in the Armed Forces and students attending college,” said one of the political observers in a brief phone interview.

“These absentee ballots may or could set the outcome of the election,” the observer points out.

Meanwhile, Uiagalelei has officially proclaimed Nov. 3, 2020 as General Election Day 2020 in the territory through a proclamation released on Monday (and published in Monday’s Samoa News edition).

Under local law, the chief election officer is required to issue an official proclamation for Election Day.

Through the proclamation, Uiagalelei says that the election will be held at designated polling stations, which will be open from 6a.m. to 6p.m. (Samoa News notes that the list of polling station locations — a majority of them church halls —  is usually released in advance of Election Day.

Electors will vote this year for the governor and lieutenant governor — running as a team for the gubernatorial race; American Samoa’s Delegate to the US House of Representatives; and the 20 elected seats for the American Samoa House of Representatives.

The 21st member of the local House is the non-voting Swains Island delegate and the Election Office — as in past years — issues a notice calling for an “open meeting” of Swains Islanders to meet and select their next delegate.

Term for the governor and lieutenant governor is four years commencing at 12-noon on January 3, 2021 — which is also when the new leaders are sworn into office. Delegate to the US and the local House of Representatives terms are two years, starting at 12-noon on Jan. 3, 2021.