Closing the register
There appears to be a considerable amount of confusion surrounding Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham’s announcement last week Friday that he will move to end the old voters’register sometime after June. This means that only those registered on the new voters’list being compiled will be eligible to vote in the next general election. Ingraham told the media at a press conference that he intends to give 90 days’notice before the old register is closed. “I am now thinking of giving that notice sometime during the month of April so that sometime towards the end of June and/or July, I intend to bring the current register to an end,”said the prime minister. He said that the boundaries commission would be appointed after the register comes to an end.
This is where the confusion comes in.
Ingraham’s announcement has resulted in people flocking to the Parliamentary Registration Department to register out of fear that they will miss the opportunity to vote in the next general election. It appears that many, including some in the local media, do not realize that the new register started last year, in October, and that voters will be able to register until the House of Assembly is actually dissolved. The old register expires in May of 2012; however, what is being created now is the new register and it will continue beyond the time the old register is closed up until the House is dissolved. Under the law, a new register of voters must be created every five years. Article 70 of the Constitution of The Bahamas says that the Constituencies Commission”shall…at intervals of not more than five years review the number of boundaries of the constituencies”.
This means that the Constituencies Commission must review and make a report not more than five years after the last report. In order for the new register to take effect, the old register must come to an end. Although this was not the practice under the Christie administration, previous Ingraham administrations have given the public at least two weeks’notice before registration is closed. Parliamentary Registrar Errol Bethel told this newspaper recently that nearly 10,000 more people were registered in the first five months of the registration process in the run-up to the 2007 general election than registered over the same period in the run-up to the next general election. Those numbers have changed considerably since Ingraham’s announcement. The increase has been described as”massive”. The number of voters on the register is now around the 30,000 mark.
Applicants for registration must be citizens of The Bahamas of full age and not subject to any legal incapacity and must be ordinarily resident in the constituency for a period not less than three months immediately preceding the day of registration. While the Parliamentary Elections Act provides for the consideration of other documents, those applying must present a valid Bahamian passport as proof of citizenship. Ingraham’s announcement has also sparked much speculation about the possibility of an early election. Some political pundits predict it could take place before the end of the year; others say early next year. Only time will tell. As Ingraham told reporters last Friday,”No man knoweth the hour but one–or the date. And he ain’t talking.”