As speculation of an early election grew, a flood of residents descended onto the Parliamentary Registration Department yesterday hoping to register or change their address, so they can vote in the upcoming election.
The register closes the day before the dissolution of Parliament.
When The Nassau Guardian visited the department, more than 30 people were waiting outside the building. Some residents said they were waiting for as long as three hours.
Even when a light rain showered the area yesterday around noon, the crowd remained still.
Many of the residents who spoke with The Guardian said they rushed to the department or its other sites after hearing reports that Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis may dissolve Parliament this week and call the election.
Barbara Deveaux, 64, said she came to the department to change her address.
“I need them to change the eight into nine – polling division nine,” she said.
Asked why she decided to vote in the upcoming election, she said, “I’ll tell you why. I’m an old Bahamian citizen.
“This year will make me 64, so you know I know about voting right? It’s my entitlement to vote. I have to vote. I like to mark my x. I feel better when my x is in that box.
“I don’t want to be home laying down and everything happening out there. So, it’s important that I put my x in that box.”
By 1 p.m., a long line snaked its way from the entrance of the department to the side of the building. Many hid under what shade they could find as the temperature rose as high as 88 degrees.
And in five to 10 minute intervals, cars poured into the area. But parking was not available, forcing people to park along the road or next door to the department.
Residents then climbed the small hill at the department and joined the line.
At the end of the line was Ethan Moss, a first-time voter.
“To be honest with you, I wouldn’t say forced to, but my parents told me I need to come and register, so that’s why I came out here today,” the 19-year-old said.
Anastacia Johnson, who was also changing her address, said she rushed to the department after hearing reports of a possible early election.
“I came out because I heard that there is a possibility that this is the last day,” she said.
“You know Bahamians wait for the last day.”
She said she has to vote.
“A lot of people have sacrificed to get us here. So, why should I be silent?”
Johnson, who was sitting near the entrance waiting to hear her name get called, said the process was “disorganized”.
“You would think this is the first time this country has been registering [people] for an election,” she said.
“It’s sad but there was no improvement in that area. There’s a lady, a sergeant with the two stripes, R954, she’s amazing. I’ve watched her do her work. She’s firm and fair. That’s the highlight for me out here.”
Eneston Bain said, “I’ve been out here for two hours just to have the constituency changed on the card. I’m still waiting and don’t know when I will get it done.”
But he said he will wait for as long as he had to.
“The last several weeks, I was so busy and I’m just informed that today might be the last for registration,” he said.
“So, in order to get that change, you have to come out to get the change done.”
Melissa Lesbott was also transferring her address.
She said she decided to finally get it over with because of all the speculation of an early election.
“Obviously, you don’t want to throw away your vote,” she said.
“You want to get an opportunity to vote.”
Brent Symonette, not to be confused with the St. Anne’s MP, came to register to vote.
“I need to see some change and even though most of The Bahamas populous is stick with the two major parties, we need to show these people that some change needs to happen,” he said.
“Look at all these people out here. No chairs. No tent. Every government agency, same thing. They don’t care until you put their feet to the fire.”
Marco Farah said he was unsure if he needed to replace his old tattered voters card.
“The news said it would be best to register today or at least start,” he said.
“I was already supposed to be on the last list but I want to make sure.”
Acting Parliamentary Commissioner Lavado Duncanson said there was a noticeable increase in people coming to the department yesterday.
“There was an increase last week but the increase today certainly has gone beyond last week,” he said.
Asked about the long wait time some people were having and if the department needed to beef up its staff, Duncanson said, “One of the things we did do early was we opened up multiple locations to make the exercise as seamless as it could possibly be,” he said.
“When we did that, we continued with our efforts to sensitize persons. I would say, up to most recently at those locations there were not long periods that persons had to wait. The turnaround time would have been around 10 minutes or so.”
He continued, “I would say within the last week, the last few days the numbers have increased and we will continue with every effort to seek to make adjustments where necessary and where the situation demands.”
The acting commissioner also said he’s seen an increase of people changing their addresses as opposed to registering to vote.
“Most recently, we would say, last week, in particular, we noticed that persons who presented themselves for some services, those persons who presented themselves for transfer surpassed the actual persons who came in last week for registration at many of our centers,” he said.
“…We are continuing our efforts to target persons who need to be included on the register and as part of our overall effort to ensure that the register is as accurate as possible.”
Since 2017, Duncanson said 4,436 people transferred into other constituencies.
A total of 289 people transferred into the Killarney constituency, he said. It is the largest number of people to do so on New Providence, he said.
On the Family Islands, Central Grand Bahama had the most people transfer in with 304, he said.
As of yesterday morning, 191,595 people were registered to vote, Duncanson said.
There were 181,000 registered voters in the 2017 election, with a voter turnout of around 88 percent.
The department has seven locations on New Providence for Bahamians to register. Each location offers day registration starting from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and evening registration, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.