Ginger Moxey, in yellow, centre, with supporters registering to vote in Grand Bahama on Wednesday as she declared she was vying to become the Progressive Liberal Party candidate for Central Grand Bahama. See full story on page three.
By KHRISNA VIRGIL
Deputy Chief Reporter
AMID reports that some women have been turned away from registration sites because of “improper” attire, Parliamentary Commissioner Sherlyn Hall yesterday defended the right of his staff not to process people because of their clothing, telling The Tribune women registering to vote with “half their breasts out” is not permitted.
With voter registration performing sluggishly this year, concerns have been raised that citizens have been repeatedly turned away and reportedly prevented from registering for reasons ranging from registrar workers taking lunch breaks to what officials deem to be inappropriate clothing.
Yesterday, a pregnant woman who did not want to be identified, told The Tribune she was told by registration officials at the Elizabeth Estates Post Office that she would not be allowed to register to vote on separate occasions because of what she was wearing at the time.
On her second attempt she went into the post office wearing an ankle length maxi dress, but was still not permitted to begin the process.
Returning for a third try, the expectant mother wore a jacket and was still told that she was too bare, so she had to put on a scarf in order to be registered.
The Parliamentary Elections Act makes no mention of dress code.
Mr Hall yesterday suggested that people may have been turned away and pointed to the public service having a “dress code” for how people are to present themselves in public. “Because you have to take photographs, so if someone comes with half their breasts out and cleavage showing, this isn’t permitted,” Mr Hall said when he was contacted.
“This has been around not just under my administration but other previous ones where we ask people to dress in decency and in order. So if my people feel that someone is not properly dressed for the photograph, we ask them to kindly put on the proper attire. That’s not out of order. It’s trying to help them. So it’s not to be rude, it’s too make sure that things are done in decency and in order.”
He added that that the number of registered voters in the country is now nearing 75,000. This is a little more than half of what the register was at the same point in 2011.
To encourage Bahamians to register, Mr Hall said the government plans to open more evening stations on January 1 in various constituencies.
“We have additional manpower to go into the constituencies from 5pm to 9pm. So we hope that might be a stimulus to encourage people to come out to present themselves to register. You must also remember that this is a voluntary process. We cannot force people to vote. It is a voluntary thing. You come forward and present your documents to fulfil the law.”
Meanwhile, Free National Movement (FNM) Leader Dr Hubert Minnis said quite a number of people have complained that registration staff were not pleasant and refused to assist voters because they were headed on breaks.
In a recent interview with The Tribune, he questioned whether these issues among other things have impacted the voter registration numbers.
“Quite a number of people have said when they went to register the staff were not too pleasant and said they were on their break and to come back.
“When you turn them away, what are the odds that they will come back? Some of these people are coming on lunch breaks and are making time on a hectic schedule. We have been getting a lot of those kinds of calls,” Dr Minnis said.
Regarding this, Mr Hall admitted that some stations might not have the needed manpower because some workers are on leave for the holidays.
“Our staff is normally in place from 10am to 4pm and they take a break at 4pm for one hour. Then they re-open again at five. That’s their lunch hour basically.
“But there are one or two persons on leave because it’s the Christmas season. So some stations we normally have four persons per station and some stations may not be fully manned so to speak because one or two persons might be on leave.”
Earlier this week, Prime Minister Perry Christie indicated that a potential election date could hinge on voter registration in the coming weeks, implying that he could make a determination as early as February “if we get the numbers right”.
The next election must be called by May, 2017.
Mr Christie, speaking to voter registration numbers on the sidelines of the 2016 Boxing Day Junkanoo Parade, admitted to The Tribune that the process has been “a struggle” for his administration, pushing officials “back to the drawing board” as they look for ways to encourage voters to “support the process”.
Mr Christie told The Tribune that “surprising forecast” has led his administration to steer “tremendous resources” towards voter registration with the hopes of “convincing eligible voters to first register and secondly, take part in this vital process”.