We supported the FNM’s promise to modernize our electoral process as the same requires modernization and reform.
As we noted yesterday, the 2017 voter register is fatally flawed. It will expire in July 2021. On it, voters have been placed here and there without regard to where they live.
The current register of voters is incapable of fixing. It is, therefore, unsuitable for use as the basis of a permanent register. It is equally unsuitable for use for the upcoming general election.
Preparation for a new register of voters ought to have commenced in July in advance of the termination of the current register in accordance with the law.
No sufficient reason has been given as to why this was not done. Usually, in recent times, preparation for a new voters’ register commences some 18 months before the expiration of an existing register of voters.
Modernization of processes elsewhere in the public service have been underway for three decades now.
Our driver’s licenses and passports systems have moved to electronic and biometric systems, the Department of Immigration and the National Insurance Board have moved their processes online, the Customs Department has done the same for the importation of goods and the Registrar General’s Office, for the incorporation of companies.
Yet, we still have manually generated, paper voters’ cards. This ought to become a thing of the past; they should be replaced with electronically produced e-voter’s cards.
Amendments to the Parliamentary Elections Act in 2011 expanded the number of registered voters able to cast votes in general elections by expanding those eligible to vote in an advance poll and further, permitting registered voters living abroad in the employment of the government or as full-time students to vote at Bahamas overseas missions.
This type of reform can be further expanded to permit advance polls to be held on additional days here.
We agree that the further modernization of our electoral process to include a move to a permanent voters’ register is a desirable goal. Such reform reflects practices in a growing number of developed societies and also of developing countries including some of our neighbors in the Caribbean.
A permanent voters’ register has demonstrably increased voter participation and increased credibility and confidence in the voting process in a number of countries.
Electoral commissions note the usefulness of the continuous register particularly for the delimitation of constituencies and for the allocation of the number of seats in an assembly.
Still, the process is not without its problems including the need for a larger, better skilled and continuously trained permanent staff, plus easy access to continuously updated technological expertise — all with added costs to recurrent and capital budgets.
Further, some countries have found it difficult to keep permanent registers clean and up to date, removing the names of the dead on a continuous basis and recording the relocation of voters whether between constituencies or outside of the country.
Some countries have been overwhelmed by the task. In one extreme case, the number of individuals on the country’s permanent voters’ register exceeded the total population of the country.
The tendency of Bahamians to change local residences frequently and also to move abroad for education, employment or familial reasons is now compounded by the thousands of residents of Grand Bahama and Abaco displaced by Hurricane Dorian. Hundreds more are missing and presumed dead.
The Commonwealth Secretariat, the Organization of American States and Canada have signaled their willingness and availability to lend assistance in modernizing electoral processes.
Accessing such assistance combined with data available within the public sector could result in the production of an electronic register and e-voters’ cards in a short period of time.
This would avoid the long lines of traditional registration processes. Such exercises have been undertaken elsewhere in much larger and more heavily populated countries.