Samoa Electoral Amendment Bill 2024 now debated by Parliament, will allow the online registration of Samoan voters both local and overseas.

The Bill seeks to amend the Electoral Act 2019 for the Office of the Electoral Commission (OEC) to ‘clean’ and update the existing rolls under a new electronic system to replace the existing system that has been deemed obsolete. This means re-registering the existing voters and registering new and eligible voters.

In tabling the Bill under emergency status, the Minister of the Electoral Commission, Faualo Harry Schuster emphasised that allowing online registration of voters is the fairest and equitable way for all Samoan citizens to exercise their rights to vote.

The existing Electoral Act 2019 allows only Samoan citizens who are on overseas study, workers on recognised employment schemes and those working in overseas Samoan government and international agencies. But online registration is not extended to Samoan citizens in Samoa.

Opposition Members of Parliament who have spoken on the bill support updating by removing the names of the deceased and those who have migrated. But their main concern is that the timeframe of 18 months is too short for the OEC to conduct the re-registration of voters.

Opposition MPs also questioned the verification process for overseas based voters when they register online as the current law requires verification of the voters’ identification from the village mayor or pastor.

According to the Minister for OEC, Faualo Harry Shuster after the online registration, the voter will need to be in Samoa in person to do the biometrics (photo ID and finger prints) to complete the registration process.

This led to further Opposition queries as to the cost to the voters to travel to Samoa for this process.

The government however is adamant to proceed in order to prepare for the 2026 general elections.

Prime Minister Naomi Fiame Mata’afa said this is the Governments call to ensure that there will be no glitches come the 2026 election date.

She clarified that the problem is the outdated and obsolete system that is over 20 years old and cannot be used again to register voters.

Opposition MPs suggested migrating the old data to the new system to save costs and time and also suggested registering the voters in Samoa first and effecting the changes made not in the 2026 elections, but the one after that.

One Opposition MP questioned the treatment of rights of overseas based Samoans versus those living in Samoa as well as those holding dual citizenship.

Prime Minister Mata’afa said she noted during the pre-sitting on Monday that the major concern from MPs was their time and expense on taking voters to register.

She said for the smooth running of the 2026 general elections, a good and effective system needs to be in place.

Leading up to the 2021 general elections, there were a lot of issues in the registration of voters ending up with some voters missing out completely when they were locked out of the registration venue.

Debate on the Electoral Amendment Bill 2024 continues when parliament resumes today.