Supervisor of Elections Sylvia Findlay says that her office will ensure that citizens are not disenfranchised as it suspends general voter registration for one month to focus on cleaning up the voter’s list.
The assurance came as Leader of the Opposition Arnhim Eustace said on Monday that his New Democratic Party will not support the decision of the elections chief.
Speaking on his weekly radio programme, Eustace suggested that inspite of Findlay’s pronouncements, her office does not have enough resources to deal with cleaning up the voter’s list and registering new voters.
“I called her this morning and I told her in no uncertain terms that she will not be having our support in relation to that matter,” he said of the suspension of general registration.
“You cannot prevent people from registering,” Eustace said.
The Electoral Office on Monday concluded the 30-day period provided by an amendment of the Representation of the People Act earlier this year for voters to update their voter registration, and avoid being excluded from the next voter’s list to be published by the Electoral Office.
However, registering officers have been advised that registration should be done on Wednesday, July 29, to cater for any persons who could not have been accommodated on Monday.
Additionally, the Electoral Office in Kingstown will continue to complement the efforts of the Registering Officers until Friday, July 31, the office said in a press statement on Friday.
The statement said that during August the Electoral Office will focus on the preparation and publication of the Voter’s List.
“Voters will be expected to scrutinise the lists and to report any discrepancies to the Supervisor of Elections or to the registering officers who will still be available in their respective constituencies.
“Consequently, there will be NO registration in the constituencies from 3rd August to 4th September, 2015. The Electoral Office will provide emergency services to the public during this period, including the distribution of national identification cards,” the press statement said.
It added that voter registration in all 15 constituencies will resume on Sept. 7, 2015.
“If the election are called while you are on holiday with your registration, it means what? That you are going to be back to the old voter’s list for the elections?” Eustace, said, adding that this is one of the issues that arise from Findlay’s decision.
General elections are constitutionally due in March 2016 but Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves has said that Vincentians will go to the polls by the end of 2015.
Findlay’s decision is part of her attempts to assess, with a view to removing from the voter’s list, some 24,000 persons who may no longer qualify to vote.
The majority of the 24,000 persons are believed to be decease or are living overseas for more than five consecutive years and therefore no longer qualified to vote.
Before the passage of the law, which received bi-partisan support from lawmakers, the voter’s list was almost as large as the nation’s population.
“I raised the question in the meetings with the Supervisor of Elections as to whether her office, because of the list of persons who are down to be taken off, plus having to do normal registration, whether her office has all the resources that could do that,” Eustace said.
“And she kept saying ‘Yes’. This morning (Monday), I asked her again ‘If you can do it, why then are stopping the registration in the constituencies? If you have the resources, why?’
“I do not agree that we should stop registration at all until such time as the elections are called and you have the late registration period,” Eustace said.
Eustace asked what will happen if the Prime Minister, as is his right, calls the elections in August.
“Are we going to go back to the old list that we had … without taking into account all the changes that have been made? I am not supporting that proposal under any circumstance,” Eustace said.
But Findlay told I-Witness News Monday that during August her office will prepare and publish the voter’s list, “allowing time for people to scrutinise the list and to report any discrepancies to us so that if needs be we will have to prepare supplementary voter’s lists, for example if somebody’s name was left off.
“So, during that period, we want to focus specifically on the voter’s list and we resume registration on the 7th of September…” she told I-Witness News.
Findlay said that if the elections are called while general registration is suspended, the Representation of the People Act has specific provisions that she cannot overrule.
“So if an election is called in that period, all of these measures that I put in place take second place and precedence has to be given to the elections and the elections procedures then take precedence,” she said.
Findlay said that her office will ensure that citizens are not disenfranchised.
As an example, she said that if a citizen turns 18 during August but will not be in St. Vincent when registration recommences in September, her office will process an ID card for that person.
She further explained why the suspension is needed, saying, “When we enter data, it is not just that we get the data and we put it in. In most cases, we have to check the data, especially if we are doing transfers.
“So a case where now we have a very limited time schedule to deal with more than the usual number, it requires us to have a little more time to deal with this and we have to zero in on those if we are going to get the voter’s list ready on schedule.
“So, it is preparing the voter’s list, publishing it, which has to do with now printing them, disseminating that information to the constituencies, and certainly, very importantly, for a voter to scrutinise the list to ensure that their names are there if they were duly registered and it is there view that they ought not to have been left off the list, they are given a chance …
“I don’t want it to be said that the month is to scrutinise because it might be a maximum three weeks in that period, but it is more likely to be two to three weeks in that period for scrutiny of the list,” Findlay told I-Witness News.