While noting that he has always been supportive of a transition to a permanent voter register, Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Leader Philip Brave Davis said the permanent register should be a new one.
Davis said the process is a complex one that requires significant planning to ensure the integrity of the register.
“I have always been an advocate of a permanent register,” he said.
“However, there’s a process to achieve that end because it requires a complete modernization of the registration process. And it is not as easy as saying it’s going to convert this register into a permanent register.”
In an interview with The Nassau Guardian last week, Minister of National Security Marvin Dames said the government was seriously considering the implementation of a permanent voter register in time for the next election in an effort to ensure that voters are not disenfranchised given the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dames said if the changes proposed by the government were to be approved, only new voters would be required to register. He said this would allow more resources to be allocated to ensuring the integrity of the register.
However, Davis said he believes the government has enough time to begin a new register and make it a permanent one while modernizing the registration process.
“We do not fundamentally object to a permanent register,” he said.
“What we are objecting to is the process that they are now trying to engage to make this present register the permanent register.
“[I] think they should start anew. They should have done what the law required, start a register in readiness, give notice that that register will be the permanent register, and then deal with the issues of the registration process, more importantly of which, what the voters are going to use to identify themselves.
“The law requires that one year before an existing one expires, the parliamentary commissioner is charged with the responsibility of starting a register in readiness of the next election. That should have been done.
“And if you are going to go to a permanent register, by now, you should have been setting up all the processes. For example, understanding in particular what is going to be used to identify voters. Are you going to be giving them the same kind of voter’s cards? Are you going to tie it into a system?”
Davis said the government spoke with him on the matter a few weeks ago, while he was in the US being treated for COVID-19.
“They made a presentation to me over Zoom when I was in Atlanta,” he said.
“And I then wrote to them what my views were and they responded. And I wrote back to them as well.”
In the last general election, in 2017, there were 181,543 registered voters. Voter turnout was just over 88 percent, with 160,409 voters casting their ballots.
Leading up to the election, there was controversy over the state of the voter register. Hundreds of discrepancies were found before the register was certified, including the duplication of names and incorrectly recorded birth dates.
Chaos ensued weeks later, at the advanced poll, which saw a number of people unable to vote because their names were not on the register.
The saga led to calls for the modernization of the process.
Following its electoral observation mission to The Bahamas, the Organization of American States (OAS) said: “The mission observed that electoral procedures in The Bahamas are currently developed in a largely manual fashion, including the registration process and the issuance of the voter’s card, and recommended The Bahamas consider modernizing its processes to improve efficiency and security and reduce the level of human error.”