Sämoa shifted to universal suffrage only in 1990, after 28 years of independent self-government under a system in which only matai (chiefs or family title-holders) were entitled to vote or stand as candidates. During the matai-only franchise era, increasing numbers of honorific titles were conferred on citizens, so expanding the electoral rolls. Broadening the franchise in 1990, it was hoped, would bring a halt to the creation of 'ballot chiefs' (matai pälota). In this paper, we show that there were also other less widely recognised reasons for matai title proliferation during 1962-90 and reveal new data showing that, far from arresting this, the number of matai continued to dramatically expand even after the shift to a universal franchise. We also examine the impact of the 1990 reforms on Sämoa's emerging party system and find evidence of the diminishing political significance of standing in the customary hierarchy.