Monday, March 21, 2011


The secret ballot is one of the necessary conditions for democracy, ensuring that people can express their choices without fear of intimidation by the powerful. However, in order to detect dual voting, many countries - including New Zealand - use a system in which ballot papers are numbered, with the number and voter identification noted on a receipt.

Samoa is one of these countries. After concerns were raised about the secrecy of the ballot after the recent election, the country's Electoral Commissioner, Tanuvasa Isitolo Lemisio, tried to reassure the public. Yes, in theory people can match the numbers. However, the ballots and records are held securely and only examined by order of the court. As for why they might want to do that, here's his example:

[Tanuvasa] described a scenario where a court may order the Electoral office to find out who a person has voted for.

"A candidate can go to court and say he has lost a fortune because people have said they have voted for me and I have given them money over the years. The candidate assumes that the people did not vote for him.

"How can you trace something like that that is so devastating on a person [candidate], the court can then order us to look into the votes in the presence of officials."

Yes, that's right: Samoa's chief electoral official thinks its acceptable and legal to examine ballot papers to see if corrupt candidates are getting what they pay for when they illegally bribe voters (and it is illegal - see s96 of the Samoan Electoral Act). He also thinks that "complete secrecy of votes could lead to increasing threats to candidates by voters".

FWIW, I am unaware of any such case. But I am still stunned that the country's chief electoral official is so unfamiliar with the basic precepts of democracy - and the law he supposedly operates under - to think this is acceptable.