Chaos best describes what transpired at some poorly organized polling stations in Nassau at last Thursday’s advanced poll. Grand Bahama polling stations were reportedly better managed.
Lines were long, reminiscent of the 2017 advanced poll. And notwithstanding the pandemic, there was little social distancing at some polling stations.
The missteps in New Providence began early when some individuals who had registered for the advanced poll were turned away from polling stations by poll workers who inaccurately claimed that their names did not appear on the register.
Then, many voters aged 65 and over showed up to vote without having registered for the expanded advanced poll under the mistaken belief that they were not required to do so. When turned away, after waiting on line for several hours, some were understandably frustrated.
The lack of experience and/or training of poll workers, beginning with a number of presiding and returning officers, marred the day.
Several political operatives, more seasoned in electoral practices than some poll workers, took advantage of inexperienced election officials and unseemingly pushed the envelope.
Videos circulating on social media showed some operatives actively seeking to influence voters even as they waited in line to cast their votes. Such behavior was until now never permitted or tolerated in our country.
The day of missteps culminated with unbecoming shouting matches involving presiding officers, political agents and police officers at some polling stations as ballot boxes were prepared for transport by the police for safekeeping until Election Day. That calm heads eventually prevailed was only small comfort.
Recently, the experienced parliamentary commissioner was summarily removed from office and replaced without public comment or explanation.
The acting commissioner is new to the job having never been responsible for the organization of a national general election. And, while some among his cadre of presiding and returning officers have held their posts previously, others are as green to the exercise as he.
The electoral register was widely criticized as flawed four years ago when it was compiled, late, for the last general election. Converted into the permanent voters’ register, it is now being used for the first time in a general election.
The deafening silence of the acting parliamentary commissioner on the infractions and shortcomings of his staff is disconcerting.
This general election has been called early, in the midst of an unrelenting delta-variant-third-wave of COVID-19 infections that has already claimed the lives of more than 250 people and overwhelmed our healthcare system.
Since the start of the pandemic, more than 450 deaths have been confirmed.
Hospitals report that they are out of or close to being out of ICU beds for COVID-19 patients and that medical staff – doctors, nurses and medical technicians – are exhausted.
This sad state of affairs stands to worsen. Guesstimates suggest that fewer than 18 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Neither of the two major parties has definitively stated that all their standard bearers in this election have been vaccinated much less their campaign teams.
And campaign rallies and motorcades that look like superspreader events to many objective observers continue apace by all political parties.
If registered voters dislocated by Hurricane Dorian have only partially been dealt with on the register, as is widely believed, one shudders to think what progress has been made in removing the names of the COVID-19 dead whose death and funeral announcements now regularly spill beyond the weekly obituary supplements into the regular pages of the major daily newspapers.
Credible elections require credible voters’ registers.
Clearly, the parliamentary commissioner was unprepared for elections, most particularly for an early election, with an expanded number of registered voters eligible to participate in the advanced poll.