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A chaotic start  

Long lines, hot weather make poll day challenging for many

Sitting on a chair in front of C.R. Walker Senior High School yesterday enduring the sweltering heat, Evelyn Cooper, an 87-year-old constituent of Centreville, expressed regret about participating in the advanced poll.

“I wish I didn’t come,” said Cooper, who was waiting for her son to pick her up.

“…I didn’t know it was going to be like this. I thought that I was going to go in and come out.”

All around her, voters and others gathered at the polling site attempted to get inside the school’s gates as police officers tried to control the crowd. 

There was no social distancing, increasing fears that the early voting exercise, which took place at 10 locations on New Providence, would be a COVID-19 superspreader event.

While some voters reported experiencing a smooth process, many waited on lines for extended periods with no protection from the brutal September sun to cast their ballots.

Most voters wore masks, but many did not wear them properly.

 At some polling sites, chaos erupted among voters and poll workers of the various political parties with more than a few rowdy scenes.

 This is the first election with expanded categories for early voting.

According to Acting Parliamentary Commissioner Lavado Duncanson, just over 19,000 people registered for the advanced poll.

For the first time, voters over 65 were permitted to vote ahead of the general election next Thursday, but in many instances no accommodations had been made to allow them to have a comfortable voting experience.

At some locations, like Government High School, where constituents of Mount Moriah, St. Barnabas and Englerston voted, the line stretched along the sidewalk into the neighboring Yellow Elder Gardens community prior to the start of voting at 8 a.m.

There were individuals in wheelchairs being pushed through the crowd as others huddled near the entrance of the school trying to get in to vote.

Iva Beckford, 91, a constituent of Mount Moriah, watched the scene from a distance, seemingly unfazed by the crowd.

When asked if she was concerned about the crowd, Beckford, whose nose was exposed, replied, “No, no, no. I’ve already had my one shot. I had my one shot.”

She said her second COVID-19 dose is scheduled for next month.

Asked if she felt comfortable with the crowd, Beckford said, “I feel quite comfortable. The man above will take care of you.”

However, not all voters felt that way.

Andrew Sweeting, 72, a Mount Moriah constituent, expressed concern over the crowds at the site.

“There’s no social distancing,” Sweeting observed.

“The police are trying to get them to go back, but then they’re just fussing about it. You know, you have elderly people. I mean I’m elderly too, but they’re older than me.

“There are people who are handicapped and they’re trying to get in and they’re fussing about them going in. Let the people who are handicapped go in. We can stand up a little longer than they can.”

Nyoka Brown, 69, who was one of the scores of voters who showed up at Anatol Rodgers High School in southern New Providence, said she decided to vote early to avoid the crowds that will likely show up to vote next week.

“The reason I came out to the advanced poll was I thought it was going to be different,” Brown said.

“I might as well had waited until the election. I think it would’ve been much better than coming out today.”

Fiordelisa Bain, 76, a former poll worker and constituent of Mount Moriah, said the advanced poll was well organized.

“The only thing that I can suggest is that maybe you could have persons at the entrance to assist persons in wheelchairs to get to that door to vote because that was very strenuous for me,” said Bain, who was escorting her 83-year-old wheelchair-bound husband.

“Most of these places have elevated entrances so maybe next time they can look and see what entrance you have for handicapped persons because that little elevation makes a difference. Other than that, it went smoothly — the way elections always go.”

Outside Doris Johnson Senior High School on Prince Charles Drive, Bishop Gilbert Thompson, 84, a constituent of Elizabeth, was among those enduring the heat and the wait.

“We’re in the sun so that’s number one and the line looks very compact so it seems as though we’re going to be out here for a little while,” Thompson said.

“Maybe it would’ve been helpful if there were some tents around, but the main concern now is can people my age — 84 and 65 and so on — survive the sun so you wouldn’t have to be concerned about ambulances.

“…Maybe if some persons want to be helpful, they will provide some umbrellas. That would be helpful for people like me and those who are 70 and older.”

Denise Strachan, a constituent of Yamacraw, said her experience was “quite good”.

“Once we got in the back, I would say that it was organized,” she said as she left Doris Johnson.

Cynthia Sealy, 71, a constituent of Elizabeth, said her experience was “a bit hectic and hot, but it was well worth it”.

Asked what she meant by well worth it, she said, “Well, to me, I want to make a difference and in order for me to do that, I’ve got to put up with whatever to put that X where I think it should go and I think that would make a difference.”

Clifford Green, a 75-year-old constituent of Carmichael, said the advanced poll could have been better organized.

“This is horrible, man,” Green said.

“You have to wait so long. We were on this line for so long.”

Asked what his biggest concern was about the advanced poll, Green said, “This standing is too long. It’s too long.”

He was also concerned about COVID-19.

“Look at all these people,” Green said.

“They’re so close together, jam up together. I have a big concern about that.”

The advanced poll took place one day after the Ministry of Health confirmed the presence of the highly transmissible Delta variant of COVID-19 in The Bahamas.

The Bahamas is grappling with its worst surge in COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic with 675 new cases confirmed in the first seven days of this month.

The country’s deteriorating COVID-19 situation made many voters worry about their health as they cast ballots yesterday.

For this reason, Doris Bridgewater, an 85-year-old constituent of Elizabeth, decided to wear two masks while voting.

“It’s for protection,” she said, adding, “I’m too old to get COVID-19.”

Trevania Clarke, 38, a constituent of Seabreeze, said she was concerned about COVID-19 as a result of the crowding at Sadie Curtis Primary School.

“We need to become computerized during this sort of time; not standing in line the old time way,” she said.

“It needs to change. We need change.”

 Last night, Duncanson, the acting parliamentary commissioner, had no immediate comment on the chaos that ensued at some of the polling sites.

 “What we are in the process of doing is we will undertake a post mortem to determine everything that transpired to address any concerns,” he said.

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Jasper Ward

Jasper Ward started at The Nassau Guardian in September 2018. Ward covers a wide range of national and social issues. Education: Goldsmiths, University of London, MA in Race, Media and Social Justice

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