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Preparations for Election Day 2020 — what if pandemic is raging?

American Samoa Election Office
American Samoa election law does not allow for mail in ballots

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA— Amid growing concerns over the ongoing global threat of the coronavirus pandemic, which has seriously impacted world economies, Chief Election Officer, Dr. Lealofi Uiagalelei said the Election Office is prepared to carry out the Nov, 3, 2020 general election, as mandated by the constitution and local law.

Uiagalelei gave his assurance during the recent cabinet meeting held at the Election Office Conference Room, where the main presentation was an update on the 2020 general election planning amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

American Samoa’s qualified electors go to the polls in November to vote for the Offices of the governor and lieutenant governor for the gubernatorial race; Delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives and the local House of Representatives.

With such an important political event in the territory’s history, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga told cabinet members that planning and preparation for the election must also take into consideration whether the virus would still be a major issue at year’s end.  

He raised the question with Uiagalelei, as to what the Election Office will do, if by November the virus is still an on-going global threat. “If come November, American Samoa is still under the Code-Blue threat-level, what will happen with the election?” the governor asked, noting that Uiagalelei needs to come up with options that can be taken if the virus remains a global threat. What are the options for carrying out mandates of the constitution and the law for the November election?

At the start of the Election Office presentation, Uiagalelei said the Election Office is prepared to conduct the election and will move ahead with it on Nov. 3rd. He repeated the same assurance he had given earlier.

One of the questions raised by cabinet directors is whether the Election office has ever consider mail-in ballots or online voting — especially now — as an option due to the virus. Uiagalelei responded that such a voting practice is not allowed under local election laws — which dictate how every election is to be conducted.

Deputy election officer, Fiti Tavai gave a briefing on the election schedule, which started with the Election Office accepting requests for absentee ballots on Jan. 1st and continuing up to Oct. 19.

Nominating petitions for candidates running for public office will be available from June 15th up to Sept.1st, while local absentee voting — such as for electors who will be off-island on election day — begins Sept. 9 through Nov. 2. Furthermore, voting for disabled electors begins Sept. 14 up to November 2.

Voter registration is currently underway and ends Oct. 5 — and thereafter the Election Office will release to candidates the updated list of the voter roll.

According to Tavai, the Election Office received $600,000 from the federal election commission under provisions of the CARES Act and this funding will go towards improvements to restrooms as well as to provide hand sanitizers, face masks and other supplies for the 38 polling stations currently undergoing assessment territory-wide.

(Samoa News notes that the Election Office, as in past years, will announce the official polling stations ahead of Election Day. The Election Office will also put out an official notice announcing the start of local absentee voting.)

Tavai also says that training will be in October for those recruited as election officials at the polling stations.

Lolo told cabinet members that the biggest question is what the Election Office will do, if come election time, American Samoa is still under Code Blue and the same question applies to planning activities for the rest of 2020 for all ASG agencies — such as re-opening of schools for school year 2020-2021.

The governor announced that he has just signed a government contract for local attorney Faoa Aitofele Sunia to be the legal counsel for the Election Office. Lolo said there are many legal issues during the election, and the reason for the office to have their own legal counsel.

(Samoa News points out that the Election Office had always had its own legal counsel to handle election matters in every election year and that the attorney would argue for the Election Office if an election matter ends up in court.)

Lolo suggested that Uiagalelei work with Faoa on a plan for what would happen if American Samoa is still under Code-Blue come election time. He further suggested that Uiagalelei work with Faoa to find ways to address any needed improvements for the 2020 election.