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Overseas absentee ballots begin to arrive back

Problem revealed with local absentee ballots
fili@samoanews.com

More than 90 overseas absentee ballots have been cast for the Nov. 6, 2012 general election and the date to accept off-island absentee ballot requests from qualified voters was last Monday, Oct. 22.

“Because the deadline to accept requests for absentee ballots has expired, the Election Office no longer accepts any more requests,” Chief Election Officer Soliai Tuipine Fuimaono said yesterday in a brief phone interview.

The total number of absentee ballots requested was not immediately available during the interview, but Soliai said a total of 99 absentee ballots have been cast — or received so far — for the general election, and data on the total number of absentee ballot requests should be available soon.

According to local election law, overseas absentee ballots are accepted up to the close of polling stations on Nov. 6. This means that the last flight to Pago Pago bringing mail from Honolulu, which would include absentee ballots, is the flight on Monday, Nov. 5.

Soliai encourages all overseas voters who have received their absentee ballots to mail them back as soon as possible, to ensure they arrive on time to be counted. He is hoping that last night’s Hawaiian Air flight from Honolulu will have brought more ballots from overseas absentee voters.

ABSENTEE BALLOT SECURITY REGULATIONS MAINTAINED

Soliai also said that the same regulations governing the arrival and security of overseas absentee ballots from past elections is again being used in this year’s general election.

“Nothing has changed, and regulations continue to be enforced,” he said, adding that this information is clearly outlined in the candidate’s manual from the Election Office.

The absentee ballots arrive in a large envelope, and inside are four smaller envelopes: one each for the gubernatorial, Congressional, local House and the referendum. At a secure area of the Election Office with poll watchers for candidates looking on, Soliai said the large envelope is then opened, and the name of the absentee voter is called out “in the presence of poll watchers” to be marked off on the voter roll.

Each envelope — which has a specific color — is placed in each ballot box: gubernatorial, congressional, local House and referendum. “The smaller envelopes containing the actual ballots are not opened until election day", also in accordance with the the law, said Soliai, who reiterated that this has always been the way elections have been carried out and this process is secure.

Absentee ballot boxes for the local House race are opened the early morning hours of Election day, and distributed to each of the polling stations where the absentee elector is a registered voter. That way, overseas absentee votes in the local House race are counted together with ballots cast at polling stations territory-wide.

However, the gubernatorial, congressional and referendum ballot boxes for absentee voters are opened at a designated time in the afternoon on election day, to be counted at the Election Office. Overseas absentee ballots are counted together with the local absentee ballots.

Prior to the counting process, the ballot boxes are opened and ballots poured onto the tables, in front of poll watchers and news reporters, who have to sign a confidentiality form which states in part that the results of the absentee ballots are not publicly released on the radio, television, news media and online, until the polls are closed at 6 p.m. (Vote counting at the Election Office — in the past — was held after 2 p.m, to ensure that ballots from the mail had all arrived at the Election Office)

LOCAL ABSENTEE VOTING CONCERN FOR HOMEBOUND OR ILLNESS

Meanwhile, Soliai said it has been found that requests for local absentee voting — for those unable to go to the polling station due to illness or a condition keeping them homebound — have encountered a problem. He said election officials visiting homes of electors who requested to be absentee, found that the person was not even ill or in town running errands.

Soliai said election officials were then faced with “not so very friendly” statements from family members, who wanted to know why they were there in the first place, and saying they shouldn’t be on their land at all.

Samoa News asked, "What is the cause of this problem?"

Soliai explained that the Election Office every year depends on village mayors to assist with local absentee voting, and during training, the village mayors are asked to identify electors in their villages who are homebound or very ill and who therefore cannot go to their designated polling stations on election day.

Village mayors are also given request forms to be filled out for these individuals for submission to the Election Office for verification, to ensure that that person is a registered voter. Based on this form and verification, that person’s name is then included in the list for this category of local absentee voters.

Soliai said he has informed election officials that if they identify someone who is strong and able bodied when they visit their home — that person will not be casting a ballot at home, but at the polling station.



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