One of the attorneys who successfully challenged the Electoral and Boundaries Commission (EBC) over voting rights for Commonwealth citizens believes yesterday’s decision by the Supreme Court will not affect this country’s readiness for the next general election, due by the middle of this year.
Wilfred Abrahams told a news conference this afternoon at the Barbados Bar Association’s office on Roebuck Street, The City, while a number of non-citizens were expected to register, the EBC ought to be equipped to deal with the increase.
“The same way that the Electoral and Boundaries Commission has to go out and investigate Barbadians who are registering for the first time or people who are changing their address . . . there is a system that is in place on an annual basis and if they do not have the resources to do so then they need to tell the Government they need more registering officers,” Abrahams said.
Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson yesterday ruled that all Commonwealth citizens who meet the requirements under the Representation of the People Act have a right to vote here.
He made the declaration in the Supreme Court, after four non-nationals who have been living here for over a decade, legally challenged their exclusion from the country’s voters’ list.
St Lucian Professor Eddy Ventose, Grenadian Shireene Ann Mathlin-Tulloch, Jamaican Michelle Melissa Russell and Montserratian Sharon Juliet Edgecombe-Miller had been seeking to get their names added to the electoral list in time for the general election.
However, they claimed that when they contacted the EBC they were advised that they were not eligible to be on the list, as they did not enjoy permanent residency, immigrant status or citizenship of Barbados.
The Chief Justice ruled that any decision to exclude them would be in violation of Cap 12 of the Act, which does not make it mandatory for the applicants to be permanent residents, immigrants or citizens of Barbados in order to vote.
During today’s briefing, which was also attended by attorneys-at-law Fay Finnisterre and Gregory Nicholls, both of whom were also instrumental in the successful challenge, it was revealed that a large number of eligible non-nationals had already signed up to vote.
“This is not a case of persons making a new claim. These people have been trying for a while and are seeking simply to get their rights that currently exist under the law. This cannot be a surprise to the Electoral and Boundaries Commission because they had notion of the action for sometime and if I were them I would have put things in place to register the people,” Abrahams said.
In support of his colleague, Nicholls said there was evidence that the EBC had registered eligible citizens of the Commonwealth, suggesting that it was selective about when the policy was applied.
“In fact we put into evidence from some persons who are Commonwealth citizens who have been registered to vote. So this is not a situation where all Commonwealth citizens have been denied, but it just seems that this is a more recent policy. They called it a longstanding policy but that is not true. There were people who voted in the last three elections. The EBC has been very vague as to when the policy was instituted and why, and to be honest there are more questions than answers,” Nicholls told reporters.