Two local political scientists say they would support the mass distribution of ballots by mail as an alternative to voting in person during the current COVID-19 environment.
Senior lecturer in political science and Head of the Department of Government, Sociology, Social Work and Psychology at the Cave Hill campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI), Dr Wendy Grenade said such a system can work.
She said fears and claims of fraud being seen in the United States elections should not be used as a basis for not introducing ballots by mail.
“If we tried that, I don’t see it as a disadvantage. If we trust our system enough, if we trust each other enough, we would not start off saying that there will be fraud. If we believe in the systems that we have, if we believe in the institutions that we have, I think we can have a very effective system of mail-in ballots,” Dr Grenade told Barbados TODAY.
The academic reasoned that it could work with checks and balances to guarantee the integrity of the process.
With respect to lessons that Barbados can take from the conduct of the presidential elections in the US, Dr Grenade identified the need for a renewal of our democracy.
“We have to think of ways to renew democracy…to be inclusive, to heal wounds within society, to build bridges in society, to ensure that leadership is not polarising, to ensure that leadership is such that it brings societies together,” she said.
Another senior lecturer in political science at the UWI Cave Hill campus, Dr Kristina Hinds, agrees ballots by mail would be a good idea for Barbados.
Like Dr Grenade, she believes best practices would be required.
“[An] election is a serious thing and you want to ensure that whatever is put in place would guard against any kind of impropriety or allegation that votes are being manipulated or stolen,” she told Barbados TODAY.
“So the idea of having mail-in ballots may raise a lot of concerns if you are not able to secure them adequately. I know there is a student at UWI that is doing some research into electronic voting, online voting. But, again, the security surrounding this is something that we would really need to ensure if it is to be an option to allow some people to vote more safely,” the senior lecturer said.
“It is something to think about, but it would require some serious thought and a lot of effort to ensure that whatever is done is secure. There may be the possibility of allowing some people to vote early.”
She also believes Barbadian leaders and their supporters can learn not to be polarising.
Meanwhile, Grenade’s predecessor, Dr George Belle, questioned the relevance of the concept of mail-in ballots in a country like Barbados.
“I don’t know to what extent we can facilitate that kind of thing. When you look at other countries in the Caribbean with similar systems, I don’t see that they have gone that way,” he told Barbados TODAY.
“The major difference is the way in which you campaign. It is clear that you cannot use the mass rallies in as an effective way as you would without the COVID restrictions and protocols.”
In fact, the political scientist does not believe the pandemic has significantly impacted the political process leading up to the November 11 by-election in St George North.
“Trinidad had their elections earlier this year. It did not seem to complicate the thing for them. St Vincent held theirs [on Thursday], I don’t see that we have had much of an inhibited response because of COVID. But it would come down to some people who would not take the risk, because of politics, to go out,” he said in the interview.