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by Lynette Eastmond
It is worrisome the haste and callousness with which we seek to eliminate the voting rights of Barbadians. The work of those who fought for Universal Adult Suffrage must always be celebrated by our own vigilance in our own time even in the face of efforts to silence those who speak
The Representation of the People Act provides that “a person is entitled to vote as an elector at an election in a constituency if on polling day he is qualified to be an elector for that constituency and is on that day registered in the register of electors to be used at that election in that constituency.”
There are also disqualifications which are contained in that Act
(1) If the person is of unsound mind;
(2) is undergoing a sentence of imprisonment;
(3) is under sentence of death;
(4) and then disqualification under any law.
Under the Constitution there are several caveats to the fundamental rights and freedoms of the people, however they must be reasonable and must have the force of law.
To date the writer has not been able to find a law which prevents individuals from voting because they have tested positive for COVID-19.
Under the Emergency Management Act when a proclamation of a public health emergency is in force, the Cabinet can make any Orders which have been commonly call Directives.
However the COVID-19 Directives issued by the Cabinet of Barbados do not disenfranchise voters. And even less so one would imagine can the statement of an individual heading the COVID-19 Unit.
It is the Chief Medical Officer who is responsible for Emergency Management under the Act. However it would be a broad untenable interpretation of the law that the CMO could by a simple statement prevent those qualified to vote from voting.
If one were to challenge the statement of the Head of the COVID-19 Unit in a Court of Law it would be difficult to show that there is any law which offends the Constitution or the Representation of the People Act – his statement having no grounding in the law.
Initial research shows that countries have found means to hold free and fair elections in the midst of a pandemic, even where people are in isolation or quarantined.
(1) Implementing physical distancing and other public health guidelines at polling places.
(2) Providing masks and single-use pencils to electors.
Giving Electors the option to bring their own mask and pen or pencil.
(3) Changing the agency’s model of operations at the polls to facilitate physical distancing.
(4) Expanding virtual training for election workers in order to limit the number of in-person interactions.
(5) Signage and posters about COVID-19 health and safety protocols at entrances
(6) Hand sanitising stations at entrances and exits of voting rooms and hand sanitiser on all service desks
(7) Election workers supplied with Plexiglas barriers, face masks, face shields, gloves and disinfecting products
(8) Face masks distributed to voters who need them
(9) Physical distancing measures and appropriate signage in polling places
(10) Entry registers to assist local public health authorities with contact-tracing, if needed
(11) Frequent disinfection of commonly touched surfaces (e.g., handrails, door handles, elevator buttons) in the voting room and washrooms All of these measures are already known to Barbadians.
In some countries they have introduced other methods such as proxy voting. However this is a change which would have required the intervention of the Members of Parliament.
Advance Voting which was introduced in Bermuda would not seem to require this and could be facilitated by what remains of Government after elections are called.
As it stands then, a statement by an officer of a Government Unit cannot disenfranchise voters. And the Electoral and Boundaries Commission should put the appropriate measures in place to allow voting by as many Barbadians as possible.
Lynette Eastmond Attorney-at-law Alliance Party for Progress.