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No changes made with regards to background checks for candidates

Chief Election Officer, Dr. Lealofi Uiagalelei shaking hands with lawmakers.

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Chief Election Officer, Dr. Lealofi Uiagalelei last Friday testified before the Fono Joint Budget Committee on the Election Office’s proposed FY 2020 budget of $900,000 — which includes $549,000 funded by local revenues and $441,000 in grants from the federal Help America Voting Act (HAVA).

During the budget hearing, House Vice Speaker Fetu Fetui Jr., asked if any new measures have been put in place by the Election Office to conduct background checks on candidates seeking to be on the ballot for public office.

Uiagalelei said no, adding that current laws are sufficient to carry out such a task. He said the Election Office, in the past, has consulted with the Attorney General’s Office on questionable issues; and claims that the AG’s Office has stated that current laws are sufficient in addressing background checks.

Last year, a House bill requiring the Election Office to conduct thorough criminal background checks of candidates before they are placed on the ballot, was rejected by the Senate, following testimony from ASG officials that current laws are good enough.

Also during last Friday’s joint budget hearing, Sen. Magalei Logovi’i, the committee co-chair, suggested that Uiagalelei look at possible hikes of the registration fee for candidates running in the gubernatorial race.

Magalei said that perhaps an increase would have possible candidates thinking twice about registering, hence reducing the number of candidates to only those who are truly qualified, and with less paperwork.

Under current law, gubernatorial candidates — those running for governor and lt. governor  — shall be nominated by filing a petition signed by at least 300 qualified electors. The petition is filed with a $500 fee at the Election Office.

Local laws require that the governor and lieutenant governor candidates are filed together under one petition.

Uiagalelei noted that the Election Office has already started preparations for the November 2020 general election, to ensure a smooth election year for voters casting ballots for the gubernatorial, congressional, and local House of Representatives races.