Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that the House Resources Committee unanimously passed his federal election bill to protect the voting rights of active duty service members and overseas voters whose home of residence is American Samoa.
“Both Republicans and Democrats of the House Resources Committee unanimously consented to the passage of this bill and I have personally thanked Republican Chairman Richard Pombo and Ranking Democratic Member, Nick Rahall, of the Resources Committee for their support,” the Congressman said.
“Today, I offered an amendment in the nature of a substitute which in no way changes the intent of H.R. 2010 but makes plain two important provisions of this bill. One, this legislation specifically authorizes American Samoa’s legislature to establish primary elections if it so chooses. Two, this bill does not mandate that the American Samoa Legislature must establish primary elections. The bill provides for election by plurality until such time as the American Samoa Legislature may establish primary elections at which time the general election will be by majority vote.”
“As I have said before, this matter is not new to the people or the legislature of American Samoa. The truth is this matter has been before the people and our local leaders for the past six years. Since 1998, I have written to our Governors, past and present. I have written and testified before our local Legislature and I included my testimony, my letters, and local responses as a matter of Committee record.”
“In my written testimony, I also stated that I have brought this matter to the attention of my constituents through press releases, newsletters, radio and tv programs. In 2001, I conducted a Congressional survey and 85% of those surveyed agreed that American Samoa’s overseas voters and active duty service members should be afforded the same rights and privileges as every other American serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.”
“Unfortunately, American Samoa’s overseas voters and military men and women have been disenfranchised from the political process and have been denied the right to vote in federal elections held in the Territory. In part, this has been due to two complications. One, American Samoa law has required overseas and uniformed voters to register to vote in person and this has been contrary to the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Voting Act of 1975.”
“While I am pleased that our legislature is working to address the local registration process, our uniformed and overseas voters have also been denied the right to vote as a result of Public Law 95-556 passed on October 31, 1978. Federal, or PL 95-556, provides for the Territory of American Samoa to be represented by a nonvoting Delegate to the United States House of Representatives and mandates that if no candidate receives a majority of the votes cast, on the fourteenth day following such election, a runoff election shall be held between the candidates receiving the highest and second highest number of votes cast.”
“Like the Governor of American Samoa, the Honorable Togiola T.A. Tulafono, I believe this 1978 federal law requiring a runoff election to be held only 14 days after the general election creates, as Governor Togiola says, ‘a situation where it is virtually impossible for American Samoa’s Election Office to send out absentee ballots to the men and women in the military and expect to receive them back in time for those votes to be counted in a run-off election.’ Given that our mail is delayed and our air service is limited to two flights a week, the Governor and I agree that some measure should be put in place to assure that the votes of our military men and women are counted and that this injustice is corrected,” Faleomavaega said.
“During the 107th Congress, I introduced H.R. 3576, a bill to establish primary elections and which made sure that the Delegate was elected by a majority of the votes cast. When introducing this bill, I pointed out that both Guam and the Virgin Islands were once bound by the two week federal runoff requirement but established primary elections to resolve similar problems. Notwithstanding, the American Samoa Government (ASG) chose not to support this bill due to the cost of primary elections.”
“Given ASG’s financial difficulties and out of respect for its concerns, I introduced H.R. 4838 which called for voting by plurality in lieu of primary elections. As I explained when introducing H.R. 4838, 49 of the 50 states use plurality voting to elect their Representatives to Congress. The counties of Tualauta and Itu’au in American Samoa also elect their representatives by plurality vote. Plurality voting minimizes costs to the local government and also provides active duty service members and other overseas voters an opportunity to participate fully in the federal election process. Despite these considerations, ASG chose not to support this bill either and the previous and late Governor Tauese P.F. Sunia said that he believed ‘the intent of Congress when they established majority vote was to ensure a strong mandate for American Samoa’s Delegate.’”
“To be clear about this, I provided the House Resources Committee with a legal history of how election law was determined for American Samoa. In 1951, President Harry S. Truman issued Executive Order 10264 which transferred administrative responsibility for the islands of American Samoa from the Secretary of the Navy to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior. The Secretary of the Interior, in turn, appointed our Governors,” Congressman Faleomavaega said.
“In 1960, the people of American Samoa adopted a Constitution. The Constitution was revised in 1966 and was approved by the Secretary of the Interior on June 2, 1967. In 1967, the Revised Constitution of American Samoa provided for an elected Legislature, or Fono, consisting of a Senate and a House of Representatives. However, it did not provide our people with the right to elect our own Governor and Lieutenant Governor and, at the time, American Samoa was the only remaining off-shore area of the United States which did not have a popularly elected Governor and Lieutenant Governor.”
“On June 10, 1976, Congressman Phil Burton, Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Interior and Insular Affairs, took notice of American Samoa’s situation and introduced a bill to make it possible for our Governor and Lieutenant Governor to be popularly elected rather than appointed by the Secretary of the Interior. As staff counsel to the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, Congressman Burton instructed me to draft this legislation which the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed by a landslide vote of 377 to 1,” Faleomavaega said.
“Instead of sending his bill to the Senate, Congressman Burton decided to consult further with the Secretary of the Interior, Rogers C.B. Morton, about American Samoa’s unique political status as an unincorporated and unorganized territory which was and is unlike the organized territories of Guam and the Virgin Islands. As a result of their consultations, the two agreed that Secretary Morton would issue a Secretarial Order (No. 3009) authorizing the American Samoa Government to pass enabling legislation to provide for an elected Governor and the Lieutenant Governor.”
“Secretary’s Order No. 3009 amended American Samoa’s Constitution to specifically provide for an elected rather than an appointed Governor and Lieutenant Governor. Secretary’s Order 3009 was also in keeping with the will of the majority of voters in American Samoa who voted in favor of electing their own Governor and Lieutenant Governor in a plebiscite that was held on August 31, 1976.”
“Furthermore, Chairman Phil Burton introduced legislation on August 2, 1978 to provide that the Territory of American Samoa be represented by a nonvoting Delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives. I also was tasked with drafting this legislation which became Public Law 95-556 and was made effective October 31, 1978.”
“I can assure you that in the case of the Delegate, American Samoa’s federal election laws were patterned after those of the Virgin Islands and Guam,” Congressman Faleomavaega said. “At the time, consideration was not given to whether or not majority or plurality voting should be established for American Samoa. Congress simply enacted legislation to provide American Samoa with representation in the U.S. Congress. We could not foresee some 25 years ago that American Samoa’s men and women would serve in record numbers in the U.S. Armed Forces making it nearly impossible (given American Samoa’s limited air and mail service) for active duty service members to participate in runoff elections held two weeks after general elections.”
“Today, we are keenly aware that this requirement to hold a runoff election 14 days after the general election is wrong. To right this wrong and after further consultations with our local leaders, I introduced H.R. 2010 which includes the suggestions of Governor Togiola. In a letter dated September 11, 2003, Governor Togiola informed me that he had reviewed the copy of H.R. 2010 that I sent to him and that he was satisfied that this bill will provide an immediate solution to address the concerns we have regarding the voting rights of our men and women in the military services. In a letter dated September 15, 2003, I thanked Governor Togiola for his support and I included our letters as part of today’s record.”
“Although we have had some differences regarding this issue, Governor Togiola and I have always agreed that our military men and women should have the right to vote especially when they contribute almost a million dollars per year in taxes to our local government. I am pleased that Governor Togiola is now happy with this bill and I again commend him for supporting its passage.”
“I also want to thank the President of the American Samoa Senate, the Honorable Lutu Tenari S. Fuimaono, for his support. In a letter dated October 28, 2003, President Fuimaono stated that he fully supports H.R. 2010 and that he wishes Chairman Pombo the best of luck in moving forward on the bill. I also included his letter as part of the record.”
“As I submitted in written testimony today, H.R. 2010 is an historic bill. It is a bill that restores the voting rights of our overseas voters and active duty military members. It is also a bill that makes clear in no uncertain terms that the Fono is vested with the authority it needs to establish primary elections for the office of the Delegate, if it so chooses. H.R. 2010 also protects American Samoa’s future in the U.S. Congress. Without H.R. 2010, future Delegates could miss out on key committee assignments and could be ranked more junior as a result of delayed outcomes and run-off elections. Like Governor Togiola, I do not believe American Samoa’s future should be weakened or disadvantaged and this is one more reason I appreciate his support of H.R. 2010.”
“Given the importance and urgency of this bill, I again thank the members of the House Resources Committee, both Democrats and Republicans, who unanimously voted in favor of this bill. H.R. 2010 is the right thing to do and, as a Vietnam veteran, I will not rest until we fully guarantee that our active duty service members have the right to vote in federal elections held in American Samoa. To alleviate any concerns that I will personally benefit from this legislation, I asked the Chairman, the Ranking Member, and Members of the Committee to accept an amendment in the nature of a substitute which I offered for purposes of changing the effective date of this bill from January 2004 to January 2006. As currently stated, any change in law will not go into effect until the 2006 election cycle and the 2004 election requirements will remain as is,” the Congressman said.
“As I have repeatedly stated, H.R. 2010 in no way affects how the American Samoa Government chooses to elect its local leaders and, having made every change requested of me by our local leaders and after years of good-faith efforts on my part, I am thankful that we have now agreed to do right by our overseas voters and active duty military members. Our sons and daughters have fought and died to preserve our freedoms and I will continue to do everything in my power to protect their right to vote.”
“Again, I thank Republican Chairman Richard Pombo, Ranking Democratic Member Rahall, and members of the Resources Committee, for unanimously consenting to the passage of H.R. 2010 and the amendment in the nature of a substitute that I offered today. As I have always said, it is not about who is in the majority. It takes both Republicans and Democrats to get the jobs done. It also takes seniority and your support and prayers.”
“As a result of today’s unanimous consent, I am now hopeful that this bill will also be supported as it moves to the House and floor for consideration. Most of all, I thank the men and women from American Samoa who are serving on active duty at a time when our nation is at war. I wish our active duty service members the very best and I pray for their safe return,” the Congressman concluded.
H.R. 2010 ATTACHMENTS INCLUDED IN COMMITTEE RECORD
04/05/00 Faleomavaega to ASG Governor Sunia, Lieutenant Governor, President of the Senate and Senators, Speaker of the House and Representatives, Attorney General
11/20/01 Faleomavaega to ASG Governor Sunia, Lieutenant Governor, President of the Senate and Senators, Speaker of the House and Representatives
12/20/01 Faleomavaega to ASG Governor Sunia, Lieutenant Governor, President of the Senate and Senators, Speaker of the House and Representatives
01/02/02 Governor Tauese Sunia to Faleomavaega, ASG Lieutenant Governor, President of the Senate and Senators, Speaker of the House and Representatives, Chief Election Officer
01/28/02 ASG Speaker of the House to Faleomavaega, ASG Governor, Election Office, President of the Senate
02/27/02 Faleomavaega to ASG Speaker of the House
03/05/02 Faleomavaega to ASG Senate President and Senators
05/23/02 Faleomavaega to ASG Governor Sunia, Lieutenant Governor, President of the Senate and Senators, Speaker of the House and Representatives
07/10/02 ASG President Pro Tem and Speaker of the House to the Honorable James Hansen, Chairman of U.S. House Committee on Resources, ASG Governor Tauese Sunia, Senators, Representatives, Chief Election Office, the Honorable Nick Rahall (Ranking Member of the U.S. House Committee on Resources), Congressman Eni Faleomavaega, Members of the U.S. House Committee on Resources
07/11/03 Governor Tauese Sunia to Faleomavaega, Chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Resources, ASG President of the Senate and Senators, Speaker of the House and Representatives, Chief Election Officer
07/15/02 Faleomavaega to the Honorable Nick Rahall, Ranking Member, U.S. House Committee on Resources
07/15/02 Faleomavaega to the Honorable James Hansen, Chairman, U.S. House Committee on Resources
07/23/02 Faleomavaega to ASG Governor Sunia, Chairman and Ranking Member of the U.S. House Committee on Resources, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, ASG Lieutenant Governor, President of the Senate and Senators, Speaker of the House and Representatives, Chief Election Officer
07/23/02 Faleomavaega to the Honorable James Hansen, Chairman, U.S. House Committee on Resources
07/23/02 Faleomavaega to the Honorable Nick Rahall, Ranking Member of the U.S. House Committee on Resources
09/05/02 Faleomavaega to ASG Governor Tauese Sunia
09/05/02 Faleomavaega to ASG President of the Senate and Senators
09/05/02 Faleomavaega to ASG Speaker of the House and Representatives
09/12/02 Faleomavaega Statement before the American Samoa Legislature
05/07/03 Faleomavaega to ASG Governor Togiola Tulafono, Lieutenant Governor, President of the Senate and Senators, Speaker of the House and Representatives
09/05/03 Senator Te’o J. Fuavai to Faleomavaega
09/11/03 ASG Governor Togiola Tulafono to Faleomavaega, ASG Lieutenant Governor, President of the Senate and Senators, Speaker of the House and Representatives
09/15/03 Faleomavaega to ASG Governor Togiola Tulafono, Lieutenant Governor, President of the Senate and Senators, Speaker of the House and Representatives
09/19/03 Senate Resolution
10/16/03 Faleomavaega to Senator Te’o J. Fuavai
10/27/03 President of ASG Senate, Lutu Fuiamono, to Faleomavaega.
10/28/03 Office of the Governor to Lieutenant Governor, Aitofele T.F. Sunia.
07/21/76 Congressional Record, Providing for an Elective Governor and Lieutenant Governor of American Samoa
10/03/78 Congressional Record, Providing the Territory of American Samoa with a Nonvoting Delegate