Letters

The downside of a permanent register for upcoming election 

Dear Editor,

The Parliament recently passed an amendment to the Parliamentary Elections Act that established what the amendment refers to as a continuous register.

The amendment obviates the need for voters to register to vote every five years. New voters and persons who changed their address since the last election will still have to go in to the parliamentary commissioner’s office to register to vote and have their voters card adjusted to reflect the new address.

I support the principle of a permanent register (my terminology) and I wrote about it on several occasions in the past. The Bahamas ought to have moved in this direction long ago. My only concern is that the continuous register should have been brought into effect after the upcoming general election.

My apprehension is that the hundreds of missing persons in Abaco and Grand Bahama after the fury of Hurricane Dorian, and the decayed bodies that were stored in the trailers in Abaco, have not been accounted for in this current register.

As far as I am aware, no death certificates have been issued for these persons, and for those who were eligible to register and vote in the 2017 election, their names will still be on the register.

Moreover, do we know how many persons may have relocated to the United States after the offer was made to victims of the hurricane?

Their names remaining on the register provides the ideal opportunity for skullduggery and mischief.

What is there to prevent a John Baptiste or a Scott Russell from showing up to vote if the register had not been thoroughly purged?

Another round of registration prior to the 2016\7 election would have cured this anomaly.

We in The Bahamas are most fortunate that we do not have the problems of voting that are evident in the United States.

Most of the voting and electoral problems there are rooted in their sad history of racial discrimination. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was meant to remove most of the inequality that existed in the US at the time.

However, as we have seen in the most recent 2020 elections, different states have created new means of voter suppression to circumvent the provisions of the Voting Rights Act.

The Bahamas had voting rights problems of its own but most of these were cured with reforms implemented in the late 50s and 60s and with the attainment of majority rule.

Governments are supposed to do what they can to make voting easier and more accessible for voters. That is why the constituencies were divided into polling divisions, and that is why overseas voting was initiated. But there is more to be done.

As it now stands, Bahamians wishing to vote by Overseas Voting must travel to a Bahamian foreign mission and depending on where they live or work in the US, Canada or England could be a daunting and expensive proposition.

The government must make it easier for those Bahamians to participate in the electoral process. Mail-in voting would be my suggestion.

There was a lot said and made of mail-in voting in the US during their recent election, but I am confident there are safe and secure methods that could make mail-in voting a viable option.

Bahamians should be proud of the electoral process that has been put in place over the past decades.

The recent amendments that introduce a permanent register are welcomed.

Officials must be vigilant, however, not to permit the disaster and tragedy of Hurricane Dorian to cause the register to be manipulated and corrupted.

Citizens must maintain confidence in the electoral process or voters may opt out of the process.

Already, there are signs of drift.

I will remind readers of my warnings in a previous letter: “The trend of Bahamians not voting may have already been set. In the 2002 general election, 14,222 persons registered but did not vote; in 2007, 11,884 registered but did not vote; in 2012, the numbers rose to 15,121 persons registered but did not vote; and in 2017, the number ballooned to 21,134”.

These are disturbing numbers and have serious implications for the democracy.

Politicians must pay closer attention to the pleas of citizens or I fear that our democracy of which we are so very proud would be imperiled.

 Sincerely,

Maurice Tynes

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