Govt. proposes electoral law changes

By Joyetter Feagaimaali’i-Luamanu ,

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Minister of Electoral Office Fa’aolesa Katopau Ainu’u.

Minister of Electoral Office Fa’aolesa Katopau Ainu’u. (Photo: Samoa Observer)

A number of amendments to voting laws have been proposed under the Electoral Bill 2018 to replace the Electoral Act 1963. 

One of the recommendations, if approved, means registered voters can only vote where they reside. This was the explanation given by the Minister of Electoral Office, Fa’aolesa Katopau Ainu’u. 

He made it clear that exceptions apply to a person who chooses to register in a constituency where a person is a matai in, and not necessarily reside in that constituency. 

“The exception also applies to children of a candidate who opt to register in the constituency the parent is registered in. 

“The exception also applies to the spouse of a candidate who opts to register in the constituency where the spouse, who is a candidate, registers in.” 

According to Katopau, under the amendments, a voter is able to transfer from one constituency to another after 10 years from the date of first registration or from the date of the most recent transfer or re-registration. 

The memorandum on this proposed measure indicated that pre-polling can take place on the week before polling day. 

“In order to qualify as a voter who can cast a vote through pre-polling, a person must prove the person is travelling outside Samoa on any day during the week before polling day.”

Furthermore, it is compulsory for every registered person to cast a vote. 

“Failure to do so will incur a penalty of $100 unless valid or sufficient reasons for not voting are provided to the Commissioner. 

“Certain groups of people may qualify as special voters who are able to cast votes outside of the constituency they are registered in. 

“This group include polling officials, a person employed by essential services listed under the Public Holidays Act 2008 (such as hospital, police services etc), an admitted patient in any hospital and a patient’s caregiver, a person employed in an elderly care home including employees and a person living in a shelter providing protection including employees.” 

Under the law, employers need to allow employees employed in services listed in clause 64, time off during work hours to vote. 

Polling day commences at 8.00am and closes at 3.00pm of the same day or closes at 7pm if polling day is held on a Saturday.

“Presiding officer is to ensure the ballot box is kept locked at all times or sealed if the lock is damaged.” 

The memo says a voter, who is blind or partially blind or unable to read or write, may request assistance from the Presiding Officer on casting his or her vote. 

According to the Bill, it is an offence to interfere with or influencing of voters, publishing defamatory matter during elections, erasing or altering an official mark on a ballot paper, fraud related offences regarding ballot papers and ballot boxes and infringement of secrecy. 

The law indicates that procurement of voting by unqualified voters amounts to illegal practice. 

The O’o and Momoli is not considered a corrupt or illegal practice so long as it is conducted 12 months after general elections. 

Furthermore, the tautua fa’aauau’ is not considered as an offence under this Part and provides for what amounts to ‘tautua fa’aauau.’ 

According to the memorandum, an election may be questioned, which must be by petition to the Supreme Court complaining of unlawful election or unlawful declaration or report. 

The requirement by the petitioner is to provide a statutory declaration that he or she did not engage in corrupt or illegal practices and the requirement for the petitioner’s witnesses to provide statutory declarations that the petitioner did not, in the witnesses’ knowledge, commit a corrupt or illegal practice. 

“If there is more than one petition relating to the same election or result, the petitions are to be dealt with as one election petition among the issues pointed out in the revamping of the current law.

© Samoa Observer 2016

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