Butler-Turner slams voter registration ‘dress code’
With claims of several women being turned away from the Parliamentary Registration Department because of a lack of appropriate attire, Official Opposition Leader Loretta Butler-Turner said yesterday these reports are “reprehensible”, calling the practice “beyond archaic”.
“I think it’s really wrong,” she told The Nassau Guardian. “It’s reprehensible. It is actually beyond archaic to have Bahamians and women in particular being subjected to such discretion.”
But when contacted yesterday, Geoffrey McPhee, of the department, said, “We are not turning anyone away. I would just like to make that point.”
While he did not refer specifically to the claims made by several woman in The Tribune, McPhee said he was aware of the department making suggestions to several men and women about their attire. He gave one example of a man wearing a singlet, who, when advised, borrowed a t-shirt for the purpose of the voter’s card photo.
“When you take a photo with just the face, the neck and the shoulders, it can look as though you are naked for a male. For some females they come [almost] topless. It does not make for a good picture. So, what we try to have at most of our sites, not all of them, we have a what’s called a shawl, something that you can just throw around, put a bit of clothing on, so you can to take a nice picture.”
Parliamentary Commissioner Sherlyn Hall reportedly said the department’s staff has the right to refuse to register people who have not followed the public service dress code, explaining that “because you have to take photographs, if someone comes with half their breasts out and cleavage showing, this isn’t permitted”.
Butler-Turner said, “I can understand that when one goes to take a passport picture, clearly there are indications as to how that passport picture should be, but this is not the case in this instance.”
She continued, “I daresay that we are in the 21st century. Let’s get on with it. Let’s move forward and allow people their rights to vote. There is no discretion there, and so they need to do the job.
Chapter nine of the Rules of Conduct for public officers states that civil servants on duty should “always be neatly and soberly dressed”, but makes no mention of a dress code for the general public in public institutions.
The Parliamentary Elections Act also makes no mention of dress code.
McPhee said the department has encouraged people coming to register to vote to dress appropriately, but it has suffered some backlash because “some people see the extreme in that”.
“They say, ‘Okay, you have been advocating for persons to come and register, they come and register; now you are going to tell them how to dress,’” he noted. “We are trying to maintain the standard and the level of the card. Definitely, you have some persons who say it’s my business and that’s just their attitude. But, we just want to quell the fears.
“… This is a de facto nationality card and I believe everyone understands that. Our cards go to a bank, the food store and it is used to identify people.”
Butler-Turner said given the “sluggish” voter registration numbers “it just seems like the Parliamentary Registration Department is hindering the progress in that regard”.
As of yesterday, more than 75,000 people had registered to vote, representing approximately 44 percent of eligible voters.