Election turnout still mandatory for Jehovah's Witnesses
Jehovah’s Witnesses, whose religious views compel them not to vote, will nonetheless be required by law to attend polling stations, electoral officials have confirmed.
The Electoral Commissioner, Faimalomatumua Mathew Lemisio, told the Samoa Observer that, even if they do not plan on marking their ballots in favour of anyone, followers of the religion must still attend polling stations on Friday.
How or even if voters mark their secret paper ballots in the privacy of their voting compartment is entirely up to them, Faimalo said.
The Electoral Commissioner said he has met with “a lot” of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the lead-up to the election. He says discussions centred on the fact that the law will require them to show up to vote but what they do in the privacy of the voting booth is a private matter.
“First of all, we respect their religion but also they are citizens of this country. Mind you, the law doesn’t say who you should vote for. You just have to vote and by that, it means, if you turn up at the ballot station and we have crossed off your name, you voted,” he said.
For the first time, voting in Samoa’s General Election has been made compulsory in 2021.
Under the Electoral Act 2019, individuals who are 21 years of age and older are required to register to vote. They are also required to show up to their designated ballot station and have their names ticked off the electoral roll.
Those who do not abide by the law commit an offence and are liable upon conviction to pay a fine not exceeding $2,000 under the Electoral Act 2019.
“Who you voted for is when we give you the paper, when you go into that compartment you decide to vote for someone or not. That’s basically it,” said Faimalo.
“We have spoken to a lot of them and when we explain that they said: ‘Okay we’re just going to turn up and we will exercise our right when we go into that compartment.’
“It’s up to them we don’t have a say in that.”
The Samoa Observer visited the Jehovah’s Witnesses compound in Siusega Tuesday this week to seek comment on how local members of the faith intend to navigate the intersection of their legal and religious obligations.
But Ryan Visocchi, a staff member at the compound, said he was unable to provide comment on the matter and referred queries to the denomination’s head office in Australia.
Mr. Visocchi said Samoa Observer inquiries would be sent to Australia for review by a spokesperson, whose name he declined to provide.
A response from Australia was not received as of press time Thursday evening.
According to the denomination’s official website, doctrine prescribes that faith members not vote and must follow a path of “political neutrality.”
“Jehovah’s Witnesses remain politically neutral for religious reasons, based on what the Bible teaches,” the website reads.
“We do not lobby, vote for political parties or candidates, run for Government office, or participate in any action to change Governments. We believe that the Bible gives solid reasons for following this course.”
By remaining neutral, Jehovah’s Witnesses say they “are able to speak freely to people of all political persuasions about the good news of God’s Kingdom.”
Although Jehovah’s Witnesses do not take part in politics, the faith’s website says they respect the authority of the Governments under which they live and respect the rights of others to make their own political decisions.
The religion was formed near the end of the 19th century by a small group of Bible students in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the United States of America.
Worldwide, Jehovah’s Witnesses number in excess of 8.6 million according to church statistics.
The faith is not the only one whose members have religious obligations that conflict with changes to electoral law that make both registration and voting for elections compulsory.
Some 10 Sisters of the Carmelite Monastery at Vailima made history when they registered to vote in 2021.
This is the first time this has been done since the Catholic monastery was established 60 years ago.
The monastery took the action after reading about the penalties contained in the new electoral law that penalise those who choose to refrain from voting.