Chairman of the Electoral and Boundaries Commission (EBC), Leslie Haynes Q.C. maintains that the exclusion of voters infected with COVID-19 from participating in the upcoming General Election is on good legal ground.
Still, the prominent attorney affirmed the right of each citizen in a democracy to mount a challenge if they believe their rights are being infringed.
“That is a matter for them. If they want to bring a case, they bring a case,” Haynes told Barbados TODAY on Friday.
He was responding to suggestions from lawyer, Michelle Russell that another attorney was ready and willing to sue the EBC on behalf of “disenfranchised” citizens in isolation.
On Friday, there were 4 700 people in isolation and based on statistics and on public health projections, the numbers unable to participate in the January 19 poll could be even higher.
But the EBC Chairman, who, last year was contracted to write a legal opinion on the divisive issue of mandatory vaccines declared that legal challenges are “one of the lovely things about democracy”.
He explained that election officials were bound by the COVID-19 directive and any attempt to make alternative arrangements would “be aiding and abetting a criminal offence”.
“The lovely thing about democracy is that we are encouraged to rebel or to challenge it at all times,” said Haynes.
“The lovely thing about democracy is that after the challenge, because of the doctrine of Separation of Powers, it reverts quickly, as distinct from an authoritarian regime, whereby you are not encouraged to challenge the regime and if per chance a challenge is made and it is not stamped out immediately, the ripple effects take years to quiet down.
“So in a democracy, you would expect a challenge. If people want to be sensational and bring an action, that’s what the law courts are for,” the EBC chairman added.
Haynes reiterated the position of Chief Medical Officer Dr Kenneth George that “there was no way” persons infected with Covid-19 would be allowed to vote.
Since then, he revealed that even the electoral officers, at a later meeting could not be convinced to interact with COVID-infected patients.
Asked if he was confident that no election regulations or constitutional laws were breached Haynes, a highly-respected lawyer replied: “That I am. I could always be wrong, but I am [confident].
“We have never barred anybody from voting. It is the covid regulations. The covid regulations say that people in isolation must stay home. We don’t bar anybody from voting. We can’t encourage anybody to leave isolation and come home if not we would be aiding and abetting a criminal offence.”
The decision is not sitting well with local academic and political pundits.
Director of the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Institute Studies at the University of the West Indies, Dr Don Marshall encouraged authorities to find a way for the thousands in isolation to vote.
He believes the outcome of the election could be greatly affected.
“It’s very concerning and I am still sure there’s enough time to try to make sure that these people, particularly those that are not in ICU or relying on a ventilator [can vote]. I am sure that efforts can be made, even at this late stage between Government and the EBC to ensure that these persons can indeed cast their ballot,” Professor Marshall declared.