Individuals who test positive for COVID-19 will not be allowed to exercise their Constitutional right to vote in the January 19 General Election.
Making the announcement Saturday morning, Head of the COVID-19 Monitoring Unit, Ronald Chapman said that it was “a hard pill to swallow” for anyone who wants to be a part of the electoral process but “we have to be our brother’s keeper”.
His comments were made during a news conference hosted by the Electoral and Boundaries Commission (EBC) to give an update on its election preparedness.
“Persons who are tested positive for COVID we are asking those persons who are in home isolation to please stay at home. Persons who are obviously in isolation at the Harrison Point facility or any other facility, those persons are required to stay in those facilities,” Chapman said.
“We understand that voting is the cornerstone of our democracy [but] we are still in a pandemic and those persons are highly infectious and we wouldn’t want those persons to go out to a polling station where we know we have all cadres of Barbadians there. So, we still want to be safe and we are asking persons if they know they are feeling ill please stay at home. If you know you have a confirmed diagnosis for COVID and you are in isolation, that is what isolation is and you stay put,” he said, while noting that there will be no testing sites at nomination or polling stations.
Chapman also indicated that no provisions such as mail-in ballots for in-home isolation or quasi polling stations will be set-up at isolation centres to accommodate members of the electorate who are in mandatory isolation. He explained that the reason for this was because the Harrison Point isolation centre in St. Lucy along with other centres are extensions of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH).
“At no point in time would you want to disenfranchise someone. It is one of the fundamental rights of who we are as a democracy. However, we have to recognise, and I will repeat it, those isolation facilities are extensions of the QEH. They are not institutions in themselves and I do not remember any time in the past … where provisions were made for persons who are in the hospital to vote. And a lot of those persons who would have been in the QEH and so on, those persons were not infectious. They were probably in there recovering from heart disease, trauma or something of that sort,” Chapman said.
“What we have now is a disease that is highly infectious. We have just been told by the chief medical officer not too long ago that we have Omicron here in Barbados and we know that Omicron is even more infectious than Delta. So, we have to be able to balance those too. We have to be able to err on the side of continuity of the country as much as possible,” he said.
However, Queen’s Counsel Hal Gollop, who also sits as a member on the EBC, has warned that because of the Constitutional element of the decision, it would be wise to first seek a legal opinion before any concrete decisions are made.
“I think it goes much further than passing off a definitive statement that it cannot be done because of this and because of that. I believe that is outside Mr. Chapman’s competence because it has an impact on law and I think it would be wiser to have an opinion on this so that the position of the Electoral and Boundaries Commission can be based on a solid legal opinion rather than that of Mr. Chapman. This is no aspersion on his competence. His competence is that of a health official not a lawyer and this thing has a legal element attached to it and that is my advice in this regard,” the attorney said.
Supervisor of Elections, Angela Taylor, while not speaking to whether the decision not to make provisions for voters in isolation would be reconsidered, gave the assurance that the EBC was always looking for ways to improve.
“With the advent of the COVID-19, I am sure there will be a time in the short future when we do sit down and discuss this matter of voting other than in-person voting and see where we can take that,” she said. (KC)