Pre-polling to debut at election

By Tina Mata'afa-Tufele 13 January 2021, 3:00PM

For the first time in the country’s elections, pre-polling will be used allowing certain groups of voters to cast their ballots ahead of national polling day on 9 April.

Four groups of voters are eligible for pre-polling which takes place from 5-8 April.

The eligible groups are citizens over the age of 65 or citizens with disabilities and their carers; citizens working in essential services and citizens traveling out of the country during polling week.

Pre-polling or early voting has been used twice before but in two by-elections, not a general election.

It’s a new addition to elections, explained Samoa’s Electoral Office Commissioner Faimalomatumua Mathew Lemisio.

“Pre-polling is a new component of our elections. It’s hard to judge its success after just two by elections. But we are of the view that this will help boost voter participation, especially our elderly citizens and those with disabilities in our elections,” he told the Samoa Observer.

Applications for pre-polling are currently being accepted until the deadline set by the Office of the Electoral Commissioner (O.E.C.).

“The pre-polling application process is currently open right up until [26 March]. We urge those who are eligible to pre-poll to make use of this opportunity,” said the Electoral Commissioner.

Venues for pre-polling will be announced as soon as the pre-polling application period has closed.

Faimalomatumua urges voters to submit applications now and avoid being caught in a last-minute rush.

“Once the pre-polling application period closes we will then finalise the venues. Dates for pre-polling runs from 12am, [5 April] to [4 pm 8 April],” he said.

“We once again urge those who are eligible to please fill in their forms and apply now to avoid any unnecessary last-minute rush.”

The general election is now 12 weeks away.

Next week, the O.E.C. plans to launch its voter awareness campaign to inform voters about their civic obligations.

“Yes we are 12 weeks away from the General Elections. Our focus now is firstly on raising voters’ awareness on their obligations during election day. Our communication team is now putting together awareness programs that will run starting next week right up until Election Day,” Faimalomatumua said.

Voters must what their roles are in the election process including what is and is not allowed when voting. 

They must also get to know what each candidate stands for before heading down to the polls to cast their ballots, the Commissioner said.

“Yes it’s very important for voters to know what their roles are in the process. What they should do and should not do. They need to get to know what their candidates stand for and what issues they intend to campaign on,” said Faimalomatumua.

One group that will head to the polls before the rest of the country is voters with disabilities.

The O.E.C. has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (M.O.U.) with the Samoa Blind Persons Association (S.B.P.A.) to create a relationship where the two parties support each other in elections.

“The current Act allows for them to appoint a helper to help them with their vote. Polling Officials/Police Officers at the polling stations during the elections can also help them out should they wish to,” said Faimalomatumua.

“The M.O.U. is a document between O.E.C. and S.B.P.A. While we cannot reveal the details of the MOU, we can safely say it was to forge a relationship where the two parties can support each other especially in elections.”

The O.E.C. hopes to create braille ballots in the future. Currently, the office is focusing on electoral materials including voters handbooks.

“Hence our long term vision under the MOU. But in order for that vision to be successful, there’s a lot of ground work to be done like equipping all members of our S.B.P.A. to be Braille literate because there is no point in having all these Brailled documents and materials but cannot be fully utilised,” Faimalomatumua said.

“The voter with visual impairment is given full authority to nominate a helper to assist them with their vote. We hope in the long run, they will no longer need that help but they can independently go into polling booths to cast their votes on their own.”

By Tina Mata'afa-Tufele 13 January 2021, 3:00PM

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