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Soliai: Crowded candidate fields push budget into red

fili@samoanews.com

Chief Election Officer Soliai Tuipine Fuimaono is forewarning lawmakers that the Election Office budget for FY 2013 is in the red because of this year’s general election that is fielding a historically high number of candidates. As a consequence, he has submitted a request for additional funding of more than $200,000.

The Nov. 6 general election has six gubernatorial teams, five candidates for the U.S. House of Representations and some sixty-one persons vying for the 20 elected seats for the local House race. Also on the ballot is the veto over-ride referendum, which would give that power to the Legislature, instead of the U.S. Secretary of Interior.

“This year’s general election in our history of electing [to] public office has a large number of candidates especially in the local House race. It’s a major one for our history,” Soliai said in telephone interview yesterday. “However, the budget for the general election is only $200,000 listed under the Special Program budget category.”

He said this budget allocation is not sufficient for the general election and is the reason he submitted on Tuesday to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee chairman Sen. Lemanu Peleti Mauga and the Fono leaders information on how much it will cost to fully run and operate the general election.

He said the total election cost is $440,000 with $280,500 for the general election alone and $159,500 for a run-off, or special election. Therefore the election budget is short $240,000 and if there is no new supplemental budget allocation, the Election Office will be in the red, he said, adding that he is hopeful that the $6.8 million in the un-pledged interest from the tobacco settlement could be used as a funding source.

Under local law, a runoff is held two weeks after the general election if a gubernatorial team does not garner 50% plus one vote in the general election.

And Soliai said he expects a special election this year in the gubernatorial race. (Samoa News should point out that this same belief has been expressed by many in the community, including political observers, because of the many candidates this year vying for the top political post in government.)

TUESDAY’S BUDGET HEARING FOR ELECTION OFFICE

Soliai first revealed the need for additional funds and the expected budget overrun when he testified before the Fono joint budget hearings Tuesday about the Election Office’s fiscal year 2013 budget, which totals $1.11 million — with $380,000 in local revenue and the rest in federal grants. The office budget does not include the $200,000, funded by local revenue, allocated under Special Programs for the general election.

During the budget hearing Soliai apologized to the Fono, telling lawmakers he expects the election budget to be in the red and that is the reason a request for additional funding was submitted separately via letter to the Fono leadership. Lemanu responded that the matter will be discussed when both chambers start debating the entire budget.

The Chief Election Officer restated that the election budget will be in the red based on the current allocation at least three times during the hearing.

Soliai also provided an update on new technology developments being used in this general election. For example, he said this will be first time that off island qualified voters — those in the military and in institutions of higher education — will be able to track absentee ballots on the internet. He said this in compliance with federal regulations for overseas military voters.

He said the system will start tracking when the absentee ballot departs a post office and when it arrives here. The system will also be able to identify a post office where the ballot is being held up. Additionally, the system also tracks the ballot leaving here heading to the off island destination and that can also be tracked via internet.

Soliai also said that all polling stations will have computers, with the goal being to improve service provided by the Election Office in the general election.

He informed lawmakers that federal funds are starting to decrease, with funds under the federal Help American Vote Act (HAVA) that supplemented the election office in the past being phased out by the federal government.

He said HAVA money, which was the result of the federal election dispute in Florida — has helped the election office since it was first enacted into law. For example, some of the money was used to build the new Election Office in Tafuna after federal approval.

Soliai said American Samoa was able to get HAVA money because of the federal election in the territory for the Delegate’s seat.

As for federal grants in FY 2013, the Election Office is expecting $410,000 in HAVA money and $322,000 under the federal Election Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities (EAID) funds.



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