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Senate introduces legislation allowing for special elections in off years

Rendering of the proposed new fono building.

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A Senate bill seeking to amend local law to allow for a special election — during a non-election year — for a legislative referendum concerning proposed amendments to the American Samoa Constitution was introduced last Saturday in the Senate.

Sponsored by Sens. Soliai Tuipine Fuimaono, Alo Dr. Paul Stevenson, and Satele Aliita’i Lili’o, the bill was assigned to the Senate Government Operations Committee for review and hearing.

The bill, if enacted into law, would create a new provision of local law, titled Legislative Referendum.

The proposed law states that when a legislative referendum concerning the American Samoa Constitution is introduced by way of concurrent resolution in the Legislature, both Houses must have held at least one public hearing each, and it has passed both Houses with a two-thirds vote, and it would then be presented to the Governor to be put on the ballot for election.

“The Governor shall call a special election during a non-election year to determine the measure,” according to the bill, which is effective immediately upon passage by the Legislature and approval of the governor.

Current law states that amendments passed by the Fono for the American Samoa Constitution are presented to the Governor, who will then place the issue on a referendum in the next general election.

The bill’s preamble explains that a referendum is a mechanism by which a legislature can submit a constitutional amendment to a vote of the people. It applies only to the American Samoa Constitution when a change is needed.

It should be noted that the last legislative referendum that was put out for the people’s vote was the veto-override issues in 2014 during the general election at the time.  And the question was, “Should Article II, Section 9 and 19 of the Revised Constitution of American Samoa be revised to give the Fono, rather then the Secretary for the US Department of Interior, the power to override the Governor’s veto?”

Furthermore, this same question was put to a ballot in 2012, 2010 and 2008. It was a yes or no question.

The new legislations says “in an effort to help call more attention to any legislative referendum put on the ballot, this bill will allow the governor by request of the Legislature, to call a special election during a non-election year,” according to the preamble.

Samoa News points out that this same referendum was also put to voters in the November 2018 midterm elections, where it was again rejected by voters. The referendum was defeated with 5,957 voters (69.9%) opposing the veto override and 2,605 supporting it (30.4%).

Some lawmakers and others believe that the reason that the “vote override” referendum was rejected by electors in the past election years was because it was included in the general election, and voters didn’t pay much attention to the issue, despite the Fono’s public awareness programs — especially in the 2018 election — explaining the proposed change to the constitution.

But voters who spoke with Samoa News in the past election years have stated that they prefer “federal oversight” and that the US Secretary of Interior should still have authority over the veto-override.  There were also voters who support the referendum.