The Office of the Electoral Commissioner is launching an app they hope will increase voter turnout at the next general election in 2021.
Following the 2016 elections, the office decided an app can provide better access to the information and the systems that make up elections here in Samoa.
Their locally built app, called Palota Samoa (Election Samoa) enables users to pre-register to vote, check their registration details, and eventually surf all the candidates and policies up for contention come 2021.
Voters will eventually have to go to the Office of the Electoral Commission to submit their biometric information like fingerprints, which ensures no one can abuse the app to register false identities.
Pre-registered citizens can skip long queues to go and quickly register their fingerprint, thus saving them and the officer’s time.
Electoral Commissioner Faimalomatumua Matthew Lemisio said his priority is to achieve free, fair and inclusive elections and he hopes the app will work towards achieving that.
“Part of our work under the law is letting people know about the candidates, so this is another platform we can use for people to access that information,” he said.
“Currently we only use newspapers and TV, which can be limited.”
Young and first time voters are of particular focus in the app design.
“Youth participation is a low trend in the last elections,” Mr Lemisio said.
“We see a lot of youth issues happening in Samoa at the moment, yet we don’t see enough youth participating in the process that will represent their voices in the highest level of decision making.”
Beyond the app, the electoral commission is campaigning in high schools to help 18 year olds preregister to vote, as they will be eligible by 2021.
Next election, when nominations for candidates are confirmed, all their information will be available on the app.
Mr Lemisio said he hoped that will increase engagement in the election.
He also wants to include a map of ballot booths, and the app will be used to release the results of the 2021 election as they come in.
“We are going to focus on the issues we know will improve the process, make the process more convenient to our people and go from there,” he said.
Although he hopes the app will get more people involved in the election, ultimately Mr Lemisio believes voting is an individual responsibility.
“We want to instill in our people that your vote is your own obligation, and your obligation as a citizen to execute that,” he said.
Mr Lemisio said while communities can, and should value the opinions of their elders and leaders, voting should be the decision of the individual.
“You vote on your own free will, without telling you who you should vote for,” he said.