There could be light at the end of the proverbial tunnel for Commonwealth citizens seeking to be able to vote in the May 24 elections.
The matter is currently the subject of a legal challenge that is before the local Court of Appeal.
However, even though the appeals court is yet to render its final judgment on the matter, attorney-at-law Gregory Nicholls, who is one of the legal representatives for the Commonwealth nationals, reported today that the Electoral and Boundaries Commission (EBC) had begun processing applications for those living in Barbados for three or more years.
While Nicholls could not say exactly how many persons were contacted by the EBC, he said he was optimistic that the process would be completed in time for next month’s poll.
“Commonwealth citizens have been calling me and telling me that the Electoral and Boundaries Commission has called them and they have also gone through the process of verifying their address,” the attorney-at-law told Barbados TODAY, adding that “some [electoral officers] have been actually visited at their homes to determine that they are indeed living at the address that they have placed on the form”.
Earlier this month, the Court of Appeal reserved judgment on a challenge by the state to an earlier ruling by Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson which paved the way for Commonwealth citizens to vote here.
Sir Marston’s ruling came after Grenadian Shireene Anne Mathlin-Tulloch, Jamaican Michelle Melissa Russell, Montserratian Sharon Juliet Edgecombe-Miller and St Lucian Professor Eddy Ventose challenged the EBC over its refusal to place them on the electoral list.
During the April 16 hearing, legal counsel for the Crown, Deputy Solicitor General Donna Brathwaite, QC, conceded that the EBC’s policy that only Commonwealth citizens who hold the status of citizen, immigrant or permanent resident can register to vote, was in contravention of the Representation of People Act.
However, even with the latest developments, Nicholls, who is one of the lead attorneys in the class action suit, admitted that time was certainly not on the side of the Commonwealth applicants, as the process was a lengthy one and recourse from the courts would be impacted by the ongoing environmental issues at the Supreme Court Complex on White Park Road.
“I think one of the [electoral] lists is supposed to come out today so if they are still verifying they are obviously not on that list. So it’s possible that we are looking at the last list that has to come out right before the election.
“It is a process that Electoral and Boundaries Commission has to follow in dealing with those applications. In addition they [ECB] also have other applications to be processed along with those from the Commonwealth citizens because normally people will change address as well,” he said.
Nicholls also revealed that he had not received instructions from his clients regarding contingency plans in the event that the applications were not processed in time.
“I have not gotten any instructions from my clients regarding what to do if their names are not on the final list. At this stage we are keeping our fingers crossed that their names would be on that final list,” he stressed.
Following the Court of Appeal’s hearing earlier this month, attorney-at-law Wilfred Abrahams, who is representing Mathlin-Tulloch, argued that the court’s decision to reserve judgment on the state’s challenge had nothing to do with the rights of Commonwealth citizens who qualify to apply to register to vote.
“It has nothing to do with the ability of the Electoral and Boundaries Commission to process them. So anyone who believes they are qualified, go in and fill out your documents, your form 1 . . . and the Electoral and Boundaries Commission is now duty-bound by law to process your application in the same way that it would anyone that is a citizen of Barbados,” Abrahams said at the time.