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Swains Island delegate selection on Oct. 29

Residents of Swains Island will be selecting their delegate to the local House of Representatives during an open meeting this coming weekend at the Election Office in Tafuna.

Swains Island is currently represented by Rep. Su’a Alexander Eli Jennings who was first selected to hold office following the 2004 general election. He is currently serving as chairman of the House Transportation Committee and is also a member of other committees.

Asked Saturday night, Su’a said, “I plan to seek re-election” and “will accept the post once again, if that is the will and consensus of the people of Swains”. It was unclear over the weekend if any other candidates will challenge the incumbent, who says he has not heard of any names being mentioned as candidates, and it won’t be known until this coming weekend.

Last Friday, chief election officer Uiagalelei Dr. Lealofi Uiagalelei released an official announcement, saying that a “special meeting” for eligible voters of Swains islanders is set for 2p.m. on Oct. 29 (Saturday) at the Election Office to select a delegate to the local House.

“Please attend this very important meeting,” Uiagalelei said.

Local law requires the Chief Election Officer to give notice about the open meeting to all adult permanent residents of Swains Island who are U.S. citizens or nationals.

As in the past, officials with the Election Office will be present during the meeting, and will serve only as observers, while Swains Islanders carry out the entire process themselves. The final results of the meeting will be presented by the election officials to the Chief Election Officer, who then makes the official announcement of the winning candidate.

During the meeting, names of individuals wanting to run for office are nominated by verbally submitting the person’s name for consideration. A Swains islander plays the role of moderator for the process, which is considered a “selection”, rather than an election.

Those who support a candidate show their support by raising their hands — or standing up as in past cases — for the vote count. There are no official ballots printed by the Election Office.

In past elections, there was much controversy surrounding the selection process, and at one time there was a call for Tokelauans who live in New Zealand to be candidates and cast ballots, but that was later rejected after an observer from the election office made it clear that local laws require candidates and electors to be U.S. citizens or U.S. nationals.

At least twice in the past 13 elections, the Swains meeting had to continue to another date because those in attendance couldn’t reach a consensus following heated, lengthy discussions among themselves.

The practice in past years was to hold an open meeting on Swains atoll, but that changed in the 2002 election with the meeting held on Tutuila, due for two main reasons: problems with ocean transportation to and from Swains, and fewer people living on Swain's island.

Under local law, the Swains Island delegate can sit and vote in committee, but cannot vote on the floor — a similar situation to that of American Samoa’s Delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives.

A measure sponsored by Su’a to give the Swains Delegate full voting rights on the House floor was rejected by the House in 2014.

If a selected candidate is agreed upon at Saturday’s meeting, it would be the first unofficial results of the 2016 general election —  although House Speaker Savali Talavou Ale is running unopposed this year.