The Electoral and Boundaries Commission (EBC) has been at the receiving end of yet another legal loss, with the Supreme Court ruling today in favour of 13 more non-nationals seeking to vote here.
Following a six-hour emergency hearing convened this morning before Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson in Court No. 6 of the Supreme Court, it was decided that the EBC would add 13 of the 14 litigants who brought the latest lawsuit to the final electoral list due out today. Additionally, the court ruled that three persons who were not on the original list of claimants must be added to the voting list before the midnight deadline.
The issue of the voting rights of Commonwealth citizens resident here rose to prominence after four Commonwealth Caribbean nationals, including St Lucian professor Eddy Ventose, sued the EBC for refusing to add them to the list for the May 24 general election, despite fulfiling the requirements of Sections 7 and 11 of the Representation of the People Act.
The matter made it all the way to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), which on Sunday ruled as illegal, the policy of the electoral management body that only citizens, and permanent residents can vote. Ventose, and five other claimants associated with that matter were registered on Monday.
However, today, the 14 litigants, who were represented by attorney-at-law Michelle Russell, contended that they also had been omitted from the list, even though they met the criteria and completed the requisite form in the stipulated time period
However, in her affidavit, Chief Electoral Officer Angela Taylor explained that her office had not denied the applications of Tara Frater, Keisha Hyde-Porchetta, Dr Yvonne Weekes, Anil Persaud, Janet Monique Caroo, John Redfern, Maria Bullen, Sean Bullen, Michael Thomas, Michelle Reid, Patrica Alfonso-Dass, Richard Boddy and Wendy Claudine Grenade.
The Chief Electoral Officer claimed that she had submitted a list of names to the Chief Immigration Officer on March 8, 2018 and despite two subsequent follow-ups, it was only two days ago that she received a list of 122 non-nationals who satisfied the residency requirement. She further revealed that while she gave instructions that all persons on the list verified by the immigration department would be eligible vote in the upcoming election, only five of the litigants had been verified.
At this point Sir Marston took an hour-long recess and dispatched marshals to summon the Chief Immigration Officer to have the status of the other nine litigants cleared up. When the hearing resumed at 4:30 p.m. Assistant Chief Immigration Officer Elaine McDonald turned up and clarified the status of the remaining nine claimants, as well as an additional three persons whose claims were ventilated at the last minute.
Speaking to the media after the ruling, attorney for the EBC Larry Smith, QC, argued that contrary to misconceptions in some quarters, there was never an attempt by the Chief Electoral Officer to disenfranchise eligible voters, rather it was an issue of the duration of the verification process.
“I think that it has been unfortunate that in some quarters some have thought that there has been some attempt to leave people off of the list. Nothing could be further from the truth. From the cooperation of the department today, it is clear that it has always been the intention that eligible [people] who could be verified [should be registered]. There is process to go through to ensure that a person is qualified and it has been shown here that the Chief Electoral Officer has made repeated attempts to get the information,” Smith said.
However, Russell contended that if Taylor had been forthcoming with the information to her clients the matter might not have ended up in court today.
“Prior to this action information was not forthcoming. We had written to the Chief Electoral Officer and several of the claimants had written to her personally and she didn’t respond. So it is unfortunate that it has come to this was dealt with amicably so that the same purpose could have been served,” Russell said.