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Challenges: Dist. 7 & Gov’s race certification delayed

Because of challenges filed with the Election Office, Chief Election Officer Soliai Tuipine Fuimaono have not yet certified candidates in the gubernatorial race and local House race District #7 - comprising of Fagaalu, Utulei, Gataivai and Fatumafuti.

Deadline to file challenges questioning the eligibility of any candidate in the Nov. 6 general election closed at 4:30p.m yesterday and the list of certified candidates for public office was released about an hour later.  (See elsewhere in today’s edition for complete details of the certified list.)

“Certification for candidates for the offices of the Governor and Lieutenant Governor, and Representative District No. 7 shall be determined at a later date,” said Soliai in releasing the list of certified candidates for public office.

While details of the challenge filed in District No. 7 were not available at press time, the gubernatorial challenge came from candidate for governor Save Liuato Tuitele and candidate for lieutenant governor Sandra King Young, through their attorney Charles V. Alailima, who filed it yesterday morning with the Election Office.

According to the letter, the “Save and Sandra” team “have information and do believe there are four candidates for offices of governor or lieutenant governor, who are now or were employees of the government of American Samoa have been actively engaged in activities intending to influence or obtain votes from qualified electors without having first resigned from their positions with the government as required by law.”

Those cited in the letter are candidates for governor, Lolo Matalasi Moliga (president of the Development Bank of American Samoa) and Dr. Salu Hunkin-Finau (co-director, ASDOE Research & Development Project); and candidates for lieutenant governor, Taufete’e John Faumuina (director of Criminal Justice and Planning Agency) and Le’i Sonny Thompson (director of Department of Administrative Service).

The letter cited a provision of local law (ASCA 4.0102) which outlines qualifications for the offices of governor and lieutenant governor and states that resignation from government employment in any capacity in the executive or judicial branches “before active campaigning is an absolute requirement for a candidate to be qualified to seek” the two top posts in government.

It also outlined ASCA 4.0102 (f), which states:

•            Candidates for the offices of Governor and Lieutenant Governor who are employees of the government in whatever capacity and for either the executive, or judicial branches must resign their position with the government before commencing active campaigning. “Active campaigning” includes but is not limited to: the acceptance of a petition from the election official charged with that responsibility; any effort whatsoever that is designed to influence or obtain votes from qualified electors; and any activity that would cause a conflict of interest at the candidate’s position of employment with the government. In any event, candidates must resign no later than 60 days prior to the election date even if the events above have not occurred.

The letter calls on Chief Election Officer Soliai Tuipine Fuimaono to “enforce” this provision and declare the four candidates “ineligible.” The letter also pointed to the Aug. 30 legal opinion by Attorney General Fepuleai A. Ripley Jr. that “confirms” that a violation of this provision “is grounds for disqualification.”

Fepuleai’s four-page legal opinion (which includes ASCA 4.0102(f) provision), states in part that the “statute provides two triggering dates for the required resignation.”

•            First, the statute provides that candidates "must resign their position with the government before commencing active campaigning.” (It also explains what active campaigning means under ASCA 4.0102(f)

•            Second, "[i]n any event, candidates must resign no latter than 60 days prior to the election date even if the events above have not occurred." The election is scheduled for Tuesday, November 6,2012 of this year. Therefore, the resignations must be in effect by Friday, September 7,2012.

In the Save and Sandra letter, it states that without exception, the four candidates “are or were government employees, and during such employment they did directly or indirectly through their supporters, post public signs and issued bumper stickers - seen on support vehicles - that solicit votes from the electorate.”

“These candidates personally engaged in campaign activities such as ‘kick offs’, ‘headquarter openings’, fundraising events, debates and other political activities that meet the definition of ‘active campaigning’ under ASCA 4.0102(f),” the letter says and attached to it are dates and times of various events in which these challenged candidates participated, as well as examples of print advertisements involving these same individuals.

According to the letter, any judicial or executive employee candidates for governor and lieutenant governor “commit election fraud if they knowingly engage in active campaigning without resigning.”

Additionally, election fraud would also be committed by any other public official who willfully fails, neglects or refuses to enforce or hinders the election laws.”

“My clients do not bring these challenges lightly, however, they cannot sit by when the integrity of our election process is at stake,” Alailima wrote in the challenge letter, which pointed out that his clients had early this year sent Soliai a letter advising “of our complaint” that certain ASG employees were actively campaigning for the gubernatorial race without resigning from their government posts.

Alailima said copies of that letter were sent to Fepuleai and the Human Resources Department and was well publicized.

“All candidates should have been aware of the law and should have acted appropriately,” he said. “As there was no action apparently taken by the challenged candidates to conform to the law, my clients have no choice but to present these challenges now that the official deadline for filing candidacies for these offices has passed and you are preparing to issue the final determination on the eligibility of candidates.”

Copies of the letter were sent to the AG’s Office, and the affected gubernatorial teams.