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Joint Resolution to change voting eligibility is tabled in the Senate

Senator Soliai T. Fuimaono
Majority of senators do not support it

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The Senate Government Operations Committee yesterday convened as a committee of the whole to discuss any proposed changes to the Senate Joint Resolution which would give individuals who have lived in American Samoa for more than 20 years, the opportunity to have a stay in how the government is run by voting in local elections.

According to the joint resolution summary, it is “a Senate Joint Resolution amending Article II, Section 7 of the Constitution of American Samoa; providing an exception for US Citizens and Permanent Residents to vote.

Committee Chairman Senator Togiola T.A. Tulafono opened the hearing and stated that he had received two proposed changes.

The first was to remove the phrase “…married to a US Citizen or US National…” and leave the sentence to read “…a Permanent Resident who is married to an individual born in American Samoa…”

Also, to add the words “…continuously residing…” before the phrase, “…in American Samoa for twenty (20) years…”

The second proposed change was to remove the whole sentence and replace it with “…an individual who has become a Permanent Resident who has resided continuously for more than twenty (20) years in American Samoa shall be deemed a qualified elector in local elections.”

Senator Togiola then opened the floor for members to share their thoughts on any changes to the joint resolution.

However, Senator Muagututi’a M. T. Tauoa, who is one of the older members of the Senate, advised his colleagues not to approve the joint resolution. He said that the local status quo was alright and for members not to be hasty in their decision making.

Sen. Togiola then gave the opportunity for all members to voice their stance in the matter.

As it turned out, the majority opposed the proposed resolution with only two supporteding it.

Senator Soliai T. Fuimaono was passionate in his opposition emphasizing that this is part of their heritage passed down by their forefathers, and which they are obligated to protect for the sake of future generations.

“Permanent residents are already reaping a lot of benefits from the federal government like Social Security, WIC Program, Food Stamps, etc,” Sen. Soliai pointed out. “But this is our birthright that we must protect at all costs.”

Senator Uti Petelo told Senate members that his mother and his late wife were born in Upolu.

“I remember during election times she would jokingly wish that she could vote,” he reminisced. “But I would always tell her, that she already has access to a lot of benefits here in American Samoa. But when it comes to affairs pertaining to our government, that is our prerogative.”

Senator Ma’o F. Gogo was of the opinion that the matter should be put to a public vote to ascertain what the people want.

Only Senator Malaepule Saite Moliga and Senator Ponematua Tapeni of Alataua supported the resolution.

Both argued that a lot of people from Samoa have lived here most of their lives and have contributed a lot to the economy of the Territory, their children are serving our government and some are in the Armed Forces and they should be given the chance to have a say in how our government should be run.

“Nowadays in many villages, our in-laws from Samoa are now in decision-making positions not only in village councils and administration but also in church affairs,” Sen. Malaepule pointed out.

Senate President Tuaolo Manaia Fruean did not reveal his stance in the matter, but he thanked everyone for their opinions. He also urged those who had supported the proposed legislation to honor the decision made by the majority of the chamber.

Before closing the hearing, Committee Chairman Togiola reminded Senate members that the proposed joint resolution had originally been introduced to the Fono in 1998 by Governor Tauese P. F. Sunia.

He recalled that Tauese had been criticized because of it and the resolution had never been reported out of committee in both chambers.

“But in 1996 when Tauese approached me to be his gubernatorial partner,” Togiola recalled. “I still remember my mother who was from Upolu with no relatives in Tutuila, and married to a faifeau, who was born in Aunu’u. I still remember her crying and wishing she could vote to support her son who was running for Lt. Governor. My father consoled her by saying, ‘Dear, my vote is your vote.”

The proposed Senate Joint Resolution is now tabled.

The current Fono session ends on October 6, 2023.