Togiola and Faleomavaega agree — primary elections are a good idea
Gov. Togiola Tulafono believes that American Samoa should have primary elections where voters decide the top two gubernatorial teams for the general election, instead of the current process of a run off when none of the teams garner enough votes (50 percent plus one) during the general election.
The governor’s comments were made on his weekend radio program, responding to a caller who stated that there were too many candidates in this year’s gubernatorial election, adding that in the U.S. presidential race there were only two candidates.
Responding to the caller, the governor said he was undecided as to whether or not to share his views on this issue but since it was raised by the caller, it was best to share his views, although this is his last term in office.
To make the process easy and to avoid a run off, Togiola says, he believes that a primary election should be held in September to decide the top two candidates for the November general election.
Togiola also said he had proposed in the past a formula for an “automatic run off”, but there were people who strongly opposed such a move, and delayed bringing this issue to the forefront.
He said a recommendation to be presented to the new Legislature and the new governor next year is for a proposal calling for a primary election for the gubernatorial race to be held in September for all candidates running for these political posts and from there, the top two teams with the highest vote counts would go on to the general election.
Togiola hopes the new Fono will support such an important change.
There have been a handful of measures introduced in the Fono over the last ten years calling for primary elections, but none of them was ever reported out of committee, and therefore was automatically defeated when that legislative session closed.
The last “primary election” bill introduced in the Fono was in 2006, according to Samoa News archives.
According to the governor, the run off issue pertaining to the congressional race has been resolved under a federal law through “plurality” — stems from a bill sponsored by Congressman Faleomavaega Eni.
Plurality means that whoever gets the highest number of votes is declared the winner and this is the same process involved in the local House race, said Togiola adding that he still has concerns with “plurality” — when there is not an overwhelming majority of voters casting ballots for a candidate in the congressional race that ends up winning.
However, he said that when a candidate gets 51% of the votes — or more — that is a huge majority of voters.
(In this year’s election, the incumbent got 56.0% of the ballots counted; 56.3% in 2010 and around 60% in 2008, according to Samoa News archives.)
Togiola said if primary elections are approved into local law, maybe then the Congressman would want to return to the issue of the Congressional election as part of the primary elections, in which the top two vote getters go to the general election.
The plurality bill was signed into law by then U.S. President Bush in 2004 and went into effect for the territory’s congressional race in 2006, amid objections from the governor and other local leaders.
The federal law “requires a plurality, instead of a majority, to elect the American Samoa Delegate to the United States House of Representatives and authorizes the American Samoan legislature to establish primary elections for the office of Delegate” if they choose to do so.
Faleomavaega has publicly stated that American Samoa still has the option of holding primary elections and he hopes the Fono will revisit this issue.
The plurality bill followed many years in which Faleomavaega called on the Fono and the local government to establish local primary elections to address concerns of the many Samoans in the military who are unable to vote in the local congressional race when there is a run-off election, as the run-off is held just two weeks after the general election.
Two weeks is not enough time for the absentee ballots to be sent overseas and received in time to be counted in the run off election. While the plurality bill went into effect for the congressional race, Faleomavaega had stated publicly that he remains very concerned over any run-off election for the gubernatorial race because the process does not provide enough time for off-island voters — especially military personnel — to receive and return their absentee ballots back to the election office to be counted.
He said he introduced the “plurality” bill because the congressional race is a federal election while the gubernatorial race is a local matter.