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Changes to Nov. 6 general election ballot form sought

American Samoa Election Office photo
Gov. Lolo: Veto override referendum should be given more ‘focus’ on ballot

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — With still enough time between now and the Nov. 6th mid term elections, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga has  recommended that the Attorney General, Talauega Eleasalo Ale and Election Office revisit and make necessary changes to the ballot form.

The governor is concerned that the veto override referendum is not prominently placed on the ballot form and names of candidates are difficult to read, especially in House Districts with many candidates.

This year, electors go to the polls to vote for the Congressional and local House of Representative races as well as the veto override, which seeks to change the Constitution, by giving the Legislature the authority to override the governor’s veto instead of the US Secretary of Interior, as it stands now.

Early this month, the Election Office announced two changes to this year’s election. One of them is that the two races and the referendum are on one ballot; and the other is that the Election Office has done away with the wooden ballot boxes, replacing them instead with see-through container ballot boxes — and, with the ‘one’ ballot, only one ballot box will be needed.

At last Thursday’s cabinet meeting, Chief Election Officer, Dr. Lealofi Uiagalelei shared the change with cabinet members, including a sample of one ballot for all midterm election issues-items.

The sample ballot lists the local House race first, followed by the US Delegate seat and last is the referendum, an issue the governor believes should be give importance on the ballot.

Lolo asked about the House districts with two seats and with many candidates, if the names would all fit on the ballot form. He cited for example, Tualauta District, to which Uiagalelei said there are 8 candidates and their names all fit on the ballot along with the Delegate seat and the veto override.

The governor said he is concerned with having many names on one ballot and voters might have a difficult time identifying each candidate, as it may be difficult to read.

LBJ Medical Center chief executive officer Faumuina John Faumuina agreed, adding that there are voters with poor eyesight, especially the elderly, and if the names are too small they will have a difficult time making them out.

ASG Office of Political Status, Constitution and Federal Relations executive director Tapaau Dr. Dan Aga asked about the rationale behind combining the veto-override and candidates seeking public office on one ballot.

Uiagalelei explained that it wasn’t an easy decision and it was made in consultation with the Attorney General’s Office — a way to streamline the work involved in the election process but at the same time, not take away from the importance of all issues on the ballot.

Based on the sample ballot shown at the cabinet meeting, Lolo believes there’s a problem, an impact —  where the names of the candidates are larger compared to the referendum, which is at the bottom of the ballot form, making it seem less important.

The governor asked the Attorney General to work with the Election Office to ensure that the ballot is well presented to the voters. While he agrees with the idea behind “one ballot”, he said the average voter will look at the ballot and will “not be interested” in the issue at the bottom.

Uiagalelei responded that about 1,000 ballots have already been printed and those who have cast votes so far (local and off island absentees) have not voiced concerns with the one ballot form.

Lolo pointed out that the issue raised by Tapaau, and that is — “focus” should be given to the referendum, which is a very important matter. Lolo said there is still enough time between now and Election Day to make any necessary changes.

Lolo advised the AG and the Election Office to review the ballot again, because to him as a voter, after voting on issues at the top of the ballot, what's at the bottom can be either voted on or ignored completely.

He stressed that there should be more emphasis on the way the referendum is placed on the ballot.