Just over 92 per cent of the Barbadian population, or 266,330 people, are registered to vote on Wednesday in the first general election since Barbados became a republican state last November.
Declaring that the Electoral and Boundaries Commission (EBC) is ready and will be following the COVID-19 protocols “to the letter”, chairman Leslie Haynes Q.C. on Monday afternoon outlined all the measures that will be in place.
He urged residents to cast their ballots throughout the day to avoid “bunching up”, as he acknowledged that the voting process, which begins at 6 a.m., could go well into the night as a result of the added protocols in place because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Haynes also insisted that, contrary to reports, the voters’ list was not late, explaining that the agency required for the registration of voters met the deadline for updating the registry, but the printing came the following morning.
“The EBC categorically denies that the register of electors is late. If you review the legislation, you will find that the 19-day period for updating the register ended on midnight on Saturday, January 15. The printing of the register was then completed yesterday, Sunday, January 16, 2022,” he said.
“I can now tell you that 266,330 persons are registered to vote. The register for elections has been printed and distributed to all political parties and independent candidates and the election officers are collecting the last of their equipment and supplies as we speak . . . . I can say to you all that the EBC is ready for general elections on January 19, 2022.”
Haynes reported that there will be close to 3,700 workers at polling stations across the island on Election Day.
EBC officials were unable to say what portion of the qualified voters were first-timers. However, they indicated that once verified those persons were added to the register.
People who have updated their addresses are still getting notices in the mail regarding what polling stations they should vote at.
In the last general elections on May 24, 2018, in which the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) claimed all 30 seats, there were some 255,833 people qualified to vote. Voter turnout was estimated around 60 per cent.
With this year’s election happening during the dreaded COVID-19 pandemic, officials said they are leaving nothing to chance, as pundits estimated that the turnout could be similar.
Haynes gave the assurance that the election workers were adequately trained and would be following the protocols outlined by the COVID-19 Monitoring Unit.
Urging voters to follow the guidance of the election workers and maintain the three-foot physical distance measure, he indicated that workers at polling stations will all be wearing face masks and face shields.
Haynes also explained that voters will be required to wear masks, have their temperature taken, and have their hands sanitised immediately before going into the polling station.
“In addition, the polling booth will be sanitized after each voter and there are large numbers of new pencils at each polling station, but if at all pencils have to be reused they will be sanitized,” informed Haynes.
“The poll clerk will not be taking ID cards from voters but will instead request the voter to show the front and back of the card. However, the poll clerk and presiding officer will sanitize their hands after any contact with the voter.”
With the COVID-19 health measures, it is likely the process of this year’s general election will be considerably prolonged. As such, Haynes pleaded with voters to mark their X throughout the day instead of going after work, as he impressed upon employers to give workers time to vote.
“We wish to encourage voters who do not have to go to work, to go to the polling station between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., and allow those who have to go to work and can’t attend the polling station during their work hours to visit the polling station in the early morning and after work in the evening, so that we have a steady flow rather than lulls and heavy periods of voting,” the EBC chairman said.
“We anticipate the COVID-19 requirements may slow the voting process a bit, and therefore we are requesting and encouraging employers to be lenient with employees who attend the poll during the work day.”
While the cut-off time for voters to reach the polling station is 6 p.m., Haynes gave the assurance that everyone in the line by that time will be allowed to cast their ballot.
Individuals will not be required to present proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test result to vote, but if their temperature is too high on the day they will be “given priority”.
“That person will be brought . . . to the door away from other voters in the line and that person will be given priority to enter the polling station. The protocols in the polling station will apply, and after the person has voted and they leave . . . the voting booths and everything that is used in the polling station will be sanitised,” said Haynes.
Deputy Supervisor of Election Ian Browne added that, where possible, more space will be used at the various polling stations to allow for physical distancing, including additional classrooms at schools that will be utilised as polling stations and fewer polling boxes in a single room.
Haynes again reiterated that COVID-19 positive individuals and those in quarantine will not be allowed to vote.
As of Sunday, January 16, just over 5,600 people were in isolation and it is estimated that this number could reach over 6,000 by Wednesday.
However, seeking to put the issue to bed, Haynes insisted that the EBC carried out its functions according to the law and it did have a legal opinion from its legal counsel of over 40 years.
“The reason COVID-19 patients in isolation are prevented from voting on polling day is solely because of the COVID-19 directive currently enforced under the Emergency Management Act, which prohibits those persons from leaving isolation for any reason. The Commission is therefore bound by that law, and until lawmakers amend that law to allow those persons to leave isolation to vote on polling day, the Commission can only advise the public accordingly,” the lawyer insisted.