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Fono learns elections are expensive and underfunded

The cost to tax payers in American Samoa to run the 2012 general and special elections was over $300,000 while the government allocated only $200,000 to cover election expenditures, which did not include the annual budget specifically to operate the Election Office.


This issue surfaced during the Fono's Joint Budget hearings yesterday as they reviewed the Election Office’s FY 2014 budget. 


Chief election officer Tuaolo Manaia Fruean says total costs for last year’s election came in just over $327,000 and of that total amount, more than $138,000 was spent on the gubernatorial run off election, with the rest for the general election.


It was Sen. Soliai Tuipine Fuimaono, who was chief election officer over the last several years, that questioned the status of this agency’s budget, during the budget hearings, pointing out that the Election Office is always in the red — every year.


However, ASG Budget and Planning Office director Catherine Aigamaua-Saelua, explained that year-to-date in FY 2012 for the Election Office does not show an overrun.


The year-to-date figures for FY 2013 are not yet available, she added. (The 2012 November general election was held during the first quarter of the current fiscal year).


Soliai said the Election Office had requested additional money last year to cover expanses of the general election for the fact that allocation at the time was not enough, given that it was a major election year that included the gubernatorial race as well as a run off.


The annual budget includes $200,000 under the Special Programs budget for the purpose of election preparation and during last year’s FY 2013 budget hearings, Soliai— when he was chief election officer—sought additional funds to run the 2012 election which was estimated at $440,000 with $280,500 for the general election alone and $159,500 for a run-off, or special election.


The Fono allocated an additional $100,000 under Special Programs to help with the 2012 election, but was line-item veto by then Gov. Togiola Tulafono, saying that no explanation was provided for giving this money to the Election Office, which didn’t request supplemental funding.


Under special program for FY 2014, a total of $200,000 is allocated to start preparations for the November 2014 general election, which is only for the local House and the U.S. Congressional delegate.


Under FY 2014, the budget to operate the Election Office totals $755,000 for 17 employees. Of the total budget, $380,000 is from local revenue and $375,000 in federal funding.


However, the Fono was told that the Election Office does not get annual federal funding and the grants included in the budget were approved a few years ago through two federal programs. The Election Office is utilizing what is left to be expanded.


Federal funding for the Election Office comes from the Help America Voting Act (HAVA) for $185,000 and the Election Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities (EAID) for $190,000.


One of the expenditures described in the budget to be funded with HAVA money is $30,000 to purchase e-poll books and equipment which are to be used at polling stations. Under the EAID, there is a $20,500 allocation to purchase ‘disabled voting equipment.’