“Cattle rustling” type absurdity can be avoided in Samoan elections

Voters lining up to cast their votes at a village voting booth

By Lance Polu

APIA: Monday 06 August 2012: Re-casting the electoral rolls with the conceptual registration framework is needed to provide quality interest-based decision making and genuine popular electoral choices, whether by way of the ballot box or through traditional means.

This is one of the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry into Electoral Matters 2012 chaired by the Ombudsman, Maiava Iulai Toma in its report released last weekend.

The Report says stable electoral rolls comprised of properly eligible voters, and only properly eligible voters, in each of the constituencies.

Voter registration, which has for years have been abused by candidates committees to entice voters, have not been assisted by an inefficient registration system that have often seen a huge last minute rush for registrations. Voter registrations in a previous general elections ran throughout the night until morning giving candidates campaign committees a chance to influence voters. Last minute rush in the last general elections resulted in the office floor caving in under the weight of the voters rushing in.

In its report, the Ombudsman says “Hopefully, it would increasingly be without the distraction of corrupt practices, acknowledged openly to be overwhelming today.

“We dare to think this lofty ideal not to be out of reach if we act now to set our electoral house in order, before we become too set in our ways or blasé about what is happening around us.

“The first step, in our view, is to re-cast the Electoral Rolls to accord with the conceptual registration framework explained above. This could be effected between now and the next General Elections in 2016. We understand that the personal details of voters already recorded in the electoral data base will greatly assist in this task.

“Once the rolls are tidied up, it should be simple enough to be rid, with respect, of the ugly “cattle herding” and “cattle rustling” type absurdity to which a significant element of Samoa’s voting population is routinely subjected at election time by candidates’ campaign committees.  This would be achieved by removing the loose eligibility criteria by which campaigners have been able to initiate transfer registrations en masse. New requirements proposed below should so change things that these campaign strategies would no longer be fruitful.

“In future, the initiative and responsibility for electoral registrations will be the business of the voter to be taken up by him with the Office of the Electoral Commission, who in turn will give these matters proper attention and scrutiny.

“We are recommending the constituency rolls to be printed not simply alphabetically for the entire constituency as per the current practice but to set out electors village by village to make it easier to detect and to object to unjustified listings.”

The Report also supports previous Commissions views to scrap the Individual Voters roll and create “Urban Seats” as well as reorganising constituencies with two seats to individual seats to avoid block voting and addresses Customary Acts and Corrupt practices, and Special Booths.

The Report in full can be accessed at the Ombudsman’s Electoral Commission Report.