Samoa Electronic voting in place next year

Photo: Office of the Electoral Commission Samoa

The Office of the Samoa Electoral Commission is in the process of procuring an upgraded e-roll biometric system worth $1.129 million tala(US$412,000) which can immediately verify and confirm voters. 

The budget allocation was recently approved in the 2023-2024 national budget for the Electoral Office and is a major expenditure from its total allocation of $4.2 million(US$1.5 million). 

Electoral Commissioner, Tuiafelolo John Stanley said the office had plans to have a mass registration last month by using the biometric system. 

But due to the procurement process of acquiring the equipment for fingerprints and photos which has not been finalised, those plans have been pushed back until January next year. 

“We have almost completed tendering process,” said Tuiafelolo noting the equipment should arrive in November this year. 

He said the old system is obsolete and the upgraded system is needed to replace it. 

The Electoral Commissioner confirmed the office is fortunate to have qualified staff that have background in programming and information system to assist in the transition. 

In 2018, the Electoral Office announced the use of a new electronic system which had biometric features and designed for a more effective system for voters to vote and for counting of votes electronically. 

The system was funded by a grant from the World Electoral Association in South Korea and costs $5.8 million (US$2.10 million) tala in total.

At the time, the Electoral Commissioner said the electronic system will alleviate the long voter queues to cast their ballots as witnessed in elections. 

It was also designed to collect voters fingerprints and have it registered digitally.

But in the 2021 General Election voters were still lining up in queues and still had their nails painted as a sign they had voted instead of the biometric system. 

Meanwhile, the Office of the Electoral Commissioner has yet to clean out the list of eligible voters from the Vaimauga No.3 constituency who did not cast their votes in the by-election earlier this year. 

A total of 2,044 people from the electoral roll that was used in the General Election in 2021 did not turn up at the polling booths during the by-election in February, said Tuiafelolo John Stanley. 

“We are almost finished looking into the numbers [of those who did not vote],” said Tuiafelolo.

“We have to make sure we remove the people who have passed away and those who have migrated overseas and could not vote. 

“And after removing those names from the roll, we will be able to have a definite number of those who did not vote.

“It will probably be around 700-800.”

Under the law, voting is mandatory in Samoa and there is a penalty of $100 (US$36)for any eligible and registered voter who will not vote in any election. 

“We will finalise the list of those who are on the roll, the eligible voters, then we will put out a notice to notify these people and ask them to come into our office. 

“We will find out what the problem is and why they did not vote.  We want them to first explain the reasons why they did not vote before we impose and issue penalty notices. 

“If they have genuine reasons of why they did not vote, we will take it on board. 

“But if there’s no genuine reason, then we will have to issue a penalty notice which is $100 tala (US$36) to each of the individuals.”

The Vaimauga No.3 by-election was triggered following the passing of the former Member of Parliament, the late Papali’i Niko Lee Hang last year. The former Chief Executive Officer for Samoa Shipping Services, Lautimuia Uelese Va’ai is now the voice of the constituency for the remainder of this parliamentary term.