The Organization of American States (OAS), in its electoral observation mission (EOM) report on The Bahamas’ 2017 general election, said “ensuring efficient and precise voter identification and registration is the cornerstone of any credible election”.
The Bahamas has a proud history of holding free and fair elections.
A credible election has several key attributes including public confidence in the process and the results, and inclusiveness defined as the provision of equal opportunities for participation to all eligible citizens.
Public trust is foundational to governance in a democracy, thereby making a lack of public trust in the electoral process, and the outcome, a seminal blow to the legitimacy of the declared winner, and its ability to effectively carry out its mandate.
With signs of an early election ramping up, there are concerns emerging about both the inclusivity of the process, and conditions that could increase risks of voter fraud and confusion at the polls.
To guarantee inclusivity, the government through the Parliamentary Registration Department must ensure that there are no unnecessary encumbrances to becoming either a first time registrant, or to transfer one’s registration.
Those who have had their voters card either lost, stolen or destroyed are being required to submit a police report to have it replaced, though the Parliamentary Elections Act makes no such stipulation as a condition of replacement.
Thousands of registered voters on Abaco and Grand Bahama would fall into the category of having one’s voters card lost or destroyed, due to the impact of Hurricane Dorian.
Section 28(1)(a)(i) of the act states that a person whose voters card has either been lost, stolen or destroyed and is not likely to be found or recovered, is to satisfy the revising officer of the same, and to swear an oath to that effect.
Having to go through the effort of seeking and obtaining a police report for a lost or stolen voters card – which is not an immediate process – when the act does not explicitly designate this as a condition of having one’s card replaced, adds an unnecessary layer of complication and burden to registered voters.
A similar burden would be experienced by unquantified numbers of registered voters from the Dorian disaster zone and elsewhere, who must transfer their registration, but may encounter difficulty in obtaining acceptable documentary evidence of their current address depending on where or with whom they reside.
Still fresh in our memory is the chaos of the 2017 advanced poll, which Acting Parliamentary Commissioner Lavado Duncanson assures will not be repeated, due to plans to increase the number of polling stations to account for an expanded category of voters now eligible to vote in the advanced poll.
But that chaos was not only due to insufficient polling stations but a bad election register now made permanent, the amelioration of which Duncanson has not yet provided a detailed status report on.
Meanwhile, a viral photograph of the amended voters card of a Bahamian whose registration was transferred from the constituency of North Abaco to Golden Isles, triggered both disgust and concern this week, as observers not only criticized the sloppiness of the card, but expressed fears of a heightened potential for voter fraud.
The correction of a valid voters card and its corresponding counterfoil is consistent with current and prior parliamentary elections statutes, but it is a feature of an antiquated registration process the Minnis administration pledged to modernize.
That pledge has gone the way of most others this term, though if fulfilled, would have proven to be a landmark achievement toward the better Bahamas Minnis promised his government would deliver.
The EOM recommended, “The Bahamas consider modernizing its processes by digitizing registration procedures and moving towards the use of biometric voters cards, which include citizens’ personal data, photo, the administrative information required for voting and enhanced security features.
“These steps will allow authorities to improve efficiency and security and reduce the level of human error.”
Despite the administration making a problematic register permanent and maintaining the status quo of an antiquated registration process, minister responsible for elections Marvin Dames insists that the upcoming general election will be “the best-executed elections in our history”.
Simply saying this, however, will not make it so.