Those who did the right thing and had removed from the voter’s list the names of persons who have been overseas for more five years, are likely to “suffer” as officials clean up the list after the passage of legislation last month.
An amendment to the election law passed in Parliament in May could see 24,000 names removed from the voter’s list, making the size more reflective of the number of registered voters in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
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“Honestly is still the best policy but what we have found, the persons whose relatives were honest are the ones who are suffering now. But, it is just a fact of life. Because if you had not removed his name, then he would have now just showed us that he has been coming home every year since 2011 and he would have been good,” Supervisor of Elections Sylva Findlay said in response to a reporter’s question at a press briefing on Thursday.
The reporter said that he had had removed from the voter’s list the name of his brother who had been overseas in excess of the five years that the law allows a person who is not pursuing “approved study” to stay outside of the country and remain a registered voter.
But the brother began returning to St. Vincent in 2011, the journalist said, and asked the elections chief if the sibling can re-register in July when he returns to St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“In our system, we have him as a non-voter, and that’s the only way he can get back on: by being here for six months,” Findlay said, noting that the law says that a Vincentian registered voter must have lived in one constituency for six months leading up to the election to be able to vote in that constituency.
The names of persons who have been overseas for more than five years pursuing “approved study” should not be removed from the voter’s list, the law, however, says.
“When we publish the list, we will not know who is out of the state and for what purpose. So that it is persons like those who would need to make that claim, ‘I ought not to have been removed because I was overseas studying…’ Back it up with documents and they should be alright,” Findlay said in relation to almost 24,000 names that will be published in the media and deleted from the voter’s list if the person do not contend their removal.
But what exactly does the law mean by “approved study”?
“I asked the question of the person who advises us and it has to be that the state has to be aware that this person is out of the state pursing study — not necessarily on study leave. But there has to be some record that this individual is pursing studies,” Findlay said in response to a reporter’s question.
She said she was not sure how this verification is done.
“But I’m sure there will be a procedure by which something can be worked out to ascertain whether or not this person is genuinely pursuing studies overseas, if the person were to make such a claim.
“It is not because it says you will provide the Electoral Office with the documents. We don’t just take the document and say, ‘Fine. This one goes.’ We have our homework; we have to do our research. We have to check the information that the individual gives to us. Approved studies, that can be checked, verified by somebody in the state,” she said.
The law, however, does not make such an exception for persons who have been overseas for more than five years because of work.
“I really cannot say that we will be in a position to do anything out of the ordinary, make any special arrangements for people who are working,” Findlay said.
But there are also cases where persons who have lived all their lives in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and are registered to vote might not be able to vote on Election Day.
“We have that challenge with 18-year-olds sometimes. Parents don’t pay attention to these things. So they move and the child comes to register… — the child of that individual — and they would have just moved o this area three months ago and they show up to register. Can’t register for another three months.
“We’ve had cases where some bright person says, ‘Ok, go back to where you used to live.’ You can’t do that either. Though you were living there for 17 and a half years, you can’t go back there, because the law is very clear: You must have lived in that constituency for the six months preceding the qualifying date, which is the date in which you attempted to register,” Findlay said.
General elections are constitutionally due in March 2016, but Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves has said that Vincentians will elect a new government before year-end.