Save-Sandra file petition with High Court on challenge
The gubernatorial team of candidate for governor Save Liuato Tuitele and candidate for lieutenant governor Sandra King Young yesterday petitioned the Appellate Division of the High Court for a review of Chief Election Officer, Soliai T. Fuimaono’s decision last week denying the team’s challenge to the qualifications of four candidates in this year’s gubernatorial race.
Gist of the challenge is that these candidates didn’t resign from their government jobs before active campaigning began. Soliai last Thursday denied the challenge saying that his authority is limited to reviewing gubernatorial qualifications set forth in the statute.
Those being challenged are candidates for governor Lolo Matalasi Moliga and Dr. Salu Hunkin-Finau; and candidates for lieutenant governor, Taufete’e John Faumuina and Le’i Sonny Thompson.
Respondents in the petition are the American Samoa Government and the chief election officer. “Parties in interest” on the petition are the four candidates in question.
According to the petitioners, the chief election officer has authority to review candidate qualification challenges under ASCA 6.0301(f) - which requires the candidates to resign from their ASG jobs prior to active campaigning or at least 60 days prior to election.
The petitioners also raised similar issues in the challenge filed with Soliai.
“Petitioners believe that a determination that a candidate for governor or lieutenant governor has resigned from employment in the ASG executive or judicial branch prior to active campaigning is a necessary inquiry by the chief election officer before determining whether the candidate is eligible for election under ASCA 6.0301(f),” according to the petition filed by the team’s attorney Charles Alailima.
In his denial letter, Soliai stated that not only is the chief election officer’s authority limited to reviewing gubernatorial qualifications set forth in the statute, “but the timing of the challenge window is such that I cannot determine whether” a violation of ASCA 4.0102(f) has occurred.
In response, the petitioners say that the chief election officer cannot use time constraints as an excuse to ignore the law. It pointed out that the petitioners’ first complaint letter to Soliai was in early April this year and it was well publicized.
“The chief election officer had more than sufficient time to investigate the issue of whether the actively campaigning candidates for governor and lieutenant governor had been or were still employed by the government in whatever capacity,” the petition states.
Additionally, the chief election officer has access to the Human Resource director and the Human Resources departments of all government agencies and could easily determine the government employment status of any candidate.
Moreover, the chief election officer “cannot be considered blind or deaf to the numerous campaign ads on radio, newspaper ads, road signs, campaign functions, debates and other very public campaign activities actively engaged in by the challenged candidates seeking to influence or obtain votes for the past year but who have not resigned from their government employment.”
Furthermore, the chief election officer’s immediately written response denying petitioners’ challenges stating there is insufficient time to investigate appears to be an effort to circumvent the law so as to justify allowing the challenged candidates to appear on the ballot without conducting an investigation into their compliance with the statute.
It asked the court to declare that:
• the resignation from government employment in whatever capacity prior to active campaigning is a requirement to become an eligible candidate for the offices of governor and lieutenant governor;
• the chief election officer has a duty to investigate and determine the eligibility of candidates in the gubernatorial race as cited in local statute; and
Petitioners also ask the court to review the Election Office records, the relevant parts of the employment records of the challenged candidates as ASG agents and departments; as well as review evidence and testimony about the campaign activities of the challenged candidates.
Additionally they ask the court to determine that each challenged candidate did engage in active campaigning without first resigning from their government jobs. Moreover, to declare that the challenged candidates are ineligible for the positions they seek in the upcoming election.
No hearing is set at this time, and Samoa News awaits a response from ASG and Soliai as well as challenged candidates.
Click on attachment to download pdf of court filing