Amendments made by the House to a senate bill that would allow voters stranded off island due to the Covid-19 pandemic, to cast ballots in the November 3 general elections were rejected by Senators this morning. Senator Faamausili Mau Mau Jr expressed his displeasure with the House saying that all they needed to do was to approve the Senate bill to allow voters who are stuck off island through no fault of theirs, to exercise their right to vote.
Instead, he said, Representatives have completely changed election law which was crafted by leaders who have passed on.
Representatives have removed a provision of the Senate bill stating that if there’s a declared national or local emergency, the Chief Election Officer can prepare procedures to ensure that qualified voters are able to cast ballots. And these procedures must be approved or disapproved by the Fono no later than 6- days prior to any election.
In addition the House has deleted a section of current election law which gives the Chief Election Officer authority to adopt, amend and repeal rules under the Administrative Procedure Act governing elections, and all other similar matters which in his judgment shall be necessary.
Instead the House has inserted under the category of those who may vote by absentee ballot: “only for the elections of November 3, 2020, a qualified elector, who would have otherwise been able to vote in person, but by action of the government was caused to be absent from the territory and unable to cast a ballot in person.
Also added by the House is language stating that the Chief Election Officer must enforce the laws governing requests for absentee ballots and a copy of the procedures employed by the Chief Election Officer to enforce this chapter shall be transmitted to the Fono no later than 30 days prior to the printing of ballots for each election or as soon as reasonable or practical.
Faamausili said the House should have gone along with the Senate bill instead of changing it which in his view prevents voters who are affected by the closure of the borders to exercise their constitutional right to vote in the upcoming elections. He urged that the Senators reject the amendments and return the bill to the House.
Senator Logoai Siaki was also critical of the House saying that after the House Speaker wrote to the governor about voting for stranded residents the House didn’t take any action to address the issue. It was only the Senate which moved to amend the law so that these voters are not disenfranchise.
Senators passed a motion to reject the House amendments and return the bill to the House.
It has been the position of the Election Office all along that under current election law, the Chief Election Officer has the authority to make changes for the conduct of elections, without Fono approval.
Chief Election Officer Dr Lealofi Uiagalelei said at a House hearing last week that 188 absentee ballots for voters who are stranded off island have been mailed out.