Faoa raises issues of voter ID fraud, coerced petition signatures, partiality
Candidate for governor, Faoa Aitofele Sunia has raised with the chief election officer Uiagalelei Dr. Lealofi Uiagalelei, what the former lieutenant governor describes as “urgent matters, which require your immediate attention and resolution.”
Faoa’s Sept. 1 letter points out several times the phrase “our opponents” but never identifies the opponents by name as there are three gubernatorial teams in the race including the Faoa and Sanitoa team.
Uiagalelei didn’t immediately respond to a Samoa News request for comments. And it’s unclear at press time if the chief election officer has sent a reply to Faoa.
The first issue, cited by Faoa, revolves around what he “feels to be a serious violation of election office policies and which lends itself to election fraud.” Faoa explained that a registered voter brought to him a Voter Registration ID card that was presented to the registered voter, outside of the election office, by Ms. Laloifi Fiu Saelua, a member of Uiagalelei’s staff.
“The voter had already in his possession the ID card presented to him when he registered, which begs the question, why the need to bring the ID personally to the voter without a request?” Faoa wrote. Further, why are IDs being removed from the election office without a formal request or legal authorization?
“One thing is clear, Ms. Saelua’s motives are questionable as she is the daughter of the governor's chief of staff and co-chairman of my opponent’s re-election campaign,” Faoa points out and requests that his complaint “be dealt with at your earliest convenience and if you find that Ms. Saelua has committed any wrongdoing, that she be immediately removed from the election office.”
(Samoa News notes that the governor’s chief of staff is Fiu J. Saelua, and co-chair of the Lolo and Lemanu campaign committee.)
Faoa claims that the removal of voter IDs from the election office is not limited to Ms. Saelua’s apparent misconduct. He says many voters have reported that members of his opponent’s committee have told them that their IDs would be delivered to them.
In other instances, he said, “members of the opposing committee” have also been seen collecting voter IDs at the election office, removing them, and have commented that they were delivering the IDs to “their voters.”
“This is highly improper as only the voter should be able pick up his or her voter ID,” said Faoa, an attorney by profession. “In the event the voter is unable to pick it up personally, the proper authorization should be by way of a Power of Attorney or an authorization form from your office, which should be notarized.”
If these accounts are true, Faoa tells Uiagalelei, “There appears to be systematic questionable activity happening in your office, perpetrated by your staff, and in collusion with members of my opponent’s campaign committee.”
According to the candidate, it “would be prudent for you to look into these matters while we gather and prepare the proper paperwork to file an official complaint with the proper authorities.”
“I am sure you share our deep concerns regarding the potential for voter and identity fraud which are clearly proscribed in our statutes,” he said.
Samoa News is aware of incidents where a parent (father or mother) was able to pick up the voter ID of a son or daughter at the Election Office, only after the parent presented proof of identification, such as US passport, or voter ID. One parent told Samoa News that she was surprised at being able to pick up her son’s ID, but the Election Office staff did ask questions to ensure she is the mother.
The next issue cited by Faoa reports that ASG department directors and supervisors have allegedly collected, inside government offices, the signatures for the “petition for candidacy of our opponents.”
“More concerning are claims by employees that they were intimidated into signing the petitions and did so only for fear of retribution,” he said and alleges that this “practice is widespread on government premises and calls into question the validity of the petitions submitted by our opponents.”
Faoa had requested that Uiagalelei consider this matter when reviewing the petitions submitted by the candidates. (Deadline for submission of candidates petition was 4:30p.m. on Sept. 1.)
Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga has made clear at three separate cabinet meetings for directors not to use ASG premises for campaign activities and this information was to be shared with all employees.
Faoa tells Uiagalelei. “You and I have known each other since grade school and I have high regard for your achievements and accomplishments.”
“Sadly, your actions of late force me to question your partiality in a process that demands independence, neutrality, and avoiding the appearance of impropriety,” he said and noted for example that on “many occasions “you have been sighted with my political opponents socializing and dining together.”
“I have been told that you even provided refreshments at a campaign meeting for my opponents,” Faoa said. “There is also the matter of holding a cabinet meeting at your office where customary gifts were presented recently.”
(The customary gifts referred to by Faoa were those from the family of Lt. Gov. Lemanu Peleti Mauga to cabinet directors and the governor for the ASG “si’i” or traditional Samoan customary presentation for the funeral of Lemanu’s late wife Pohakalani. The cabinet meeting as well as the customary gifts from Lemanu’s family was held at the Election Office conference room last month.)
“While I do not doubt that you and my opponents have a friendship, no amount of reasoning can resolve the clear conflicts of interest and the possible violations that arise from your personal contacts, even if these contacts happen outside of the ASG workday between the hours of 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m,” Faoa wrote.
“While I am extremely disappointed with what continues to happen in this campaign season, I continue to believe you to be an honest man, guided by strict morals and principles,” he said and asked Uiagalelei to “address and take serious these issues that I have presented in this communication.”