Like everything else in Am. Sam. the elections were unique and random. First, in order to vote in the local elections, you need to have lived on island for two years and live in the same district for a year. The Supreme Court has basically ruled these provisions illegal on the mainland, but being an unincorporated territory has its advantages. In addition, the Samoans take the elections seriously, or at least they are willing to fight about them. In past years, fights have broken out. As a result, extra police were called up and my favorite part - you could not buy liquor, at a bar or store, while the polling stations were open. Luckily, no physical alterations this year, but some people were jonsing for a drink by 6 pm.
I had the opportunity to meet a wife of one of the candidates and got an inside perspective in running for election (or re-election in his case) in American Samoa. After talking with her, I have no idea why anyone would run for election for a House seat in the Fono (local legislature).
The voting population expects a lot of its candidates, not in campaign promises, but actual material goods. Voters asking for money is common, and candidates giving money to voters is also common - as in buying their vote. Another friend told me a story of one candidate taking out a $20,000 loan in order to give voters $100. WHAT!?! I thought that type of behavior was illegal, but I guess not. He did win.
However, free food is even more common. Normally a candidate will host meals on a regular basis for between 60-100 people. Now beyond the actual meal, voters expect leftovers or it is not considered a successful event. I actually helped out one night - they had to cook 30 pounds of chicken - I donated my oven for the cause. On the actual election day, each candidate will set up tents near the voting station and give out more food. As one Samoan joked, they vote with their taste buds. crazy.
I guess my friend's food was not that good, cause her husband lost. Some of the elections were really close. For example Matagi R.M McMoore lost to Leapai Tusipa Anoa'i by four votes. Or Puletu Dick Koko beat Vaiausia Eliko Yandall by three votes. Still think the Virgina Senate race is close? These close elections remind me when I ran for student senator in college. I lost by one vote. The next day I found that two, yes two, of my fraternity brothers did not vote. No, I am not bitter, not at all.
The only island wide election was for our Delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives. Sure the Delegate can't vote, but is that really that important? I watched this race because I really liked the slogan for the challenger. The challenger, Aumua Amata, has run for years, but never won. So this year, her motto was "Finally, it's her turn." More of a desperate plea then a slogan, but what the heck, it is catchy and regardless, it made me laugh. Sean and I also saw her campaigning most mornings on our way to work waving to all the cars. I also saw her once at Cost-U-Less and let her go ahead of me in line, because I believed it was "her turn" at the counter. Sadly for her, on election night, it wasn't her turn and Eni Fa'aua'a Hunkin Faleomavaega Jr. was re-elected for his 10th term.
Better luck next time Amata. I am sure it will be your turn soon.