WITH the 2017 election deadline only four months away, there is growing concern that Bahamians are so turned off by their politicians that they are not registering to vote.
In the 2012 election, 172,000 voters were on the register for the May 2, election. By November 2011 there were already 134,000 voters registered for that election. So far this year, only 75,000 persons have registered for May 2017. And instead of doing everything possible to encourage voter registration, reports are now coming in that a strict dress code — which was never an issue in the past — is now being used at some registration stations to prevent the registration of Bahamian women.
On Friday, Opposition Leader Loretta Butler-Turner questioned the authority of the registration department to turn away any Bahamian because of a, so far, unspecified dress code not being adhered to. However, Parliamentary Commissioner Sherlyn Hall defended his staff’s right to turn away any woman who came to register with “half her breasts out”. We have never heard of this complaint in previous elections. It does not appear that the dress code has changed so drastically since the 2012 election that women’s exposed breasts are now interfering with their legal right to vote. And if women were suddenly dressing in the obscene manner described by the parliamentary registrar, then the police are failing in their duty. These women should have been arrested long ago for indecent public exposure. This not being the case, then we have to agree with Opposition Leader Loretta Butler-Turner who condemned the action as “nonsensical”, “wrongheaded” and bordering on the illegal. On Friday, she said the parliamentary registrar’s decision was “highly arbitrary, undemocratic and may be illegal”.
While FNM Chairman Sidney Collie suggested last week that through such arbitrary decisions the PLP, while hand-wringing and moaning about lack of voter turn out, are in fact operating a form of “voter suppression”.
Whatever it is — or whoever, if anyone is to blame— this discriminatory practice is not just aimed at women.
Yesterday morning, two young men went to Marathon Mall to register. One was registered, the other was not. The one who was turned away was told that he had to remove his “eyebrow piercing” before he could be registered. He refused. In turn, the parliamentary staff refused to process him. And so another potential voter was lost.
We were told that this is not an isolated occurrence, nor has it just started.
“This has been going on for some time,” we were informed, “it is only now starting to come out.” And so, no one really knows how many potential voters have been discouraged in this way.
We were informed that earlier this year - in July - a very well dressed business woman was turned away — again from the polling station in Marathon Mall.
It was a very hot day when this stylish high-heeled business woman stopped at the Mall to register to vote. The day was hot and so she was wearing a high necked, sleeveless dress. No bosoms were exposed here, only bare arms. She arrived at 9:30am, but was told by a polling agent that the station did not open before 10am, and so, rather than drive all the way home she decided to walk the Mall and browse in shop windows for half an hour.
When the registration station eventually opened she entered, expecting to get quick and efficient attention. Instead she was told that she was not properly dressed. She was certainly well dressed for her office job, but she was not dressed well enough to have her photograph taken and sign her name to the Voters Register. Naturally, she was very angry — more angry because if the poll worker had been efficient and sufficiently interested in helping her register she would have given her that information when she arrived for the expected 9:30 am opening. Instead of walking the Mall, the potential voter could have driven home and got a jacket.
However, this was a Bahamian determined to vote and no indifferent poll worker was going to deter her. She got in her car, drove home, grabbed a jacket and returned to the Mall.
She was registered. But, how many more have not been registered because it appears obvious that the parliamentary registrar’s department has —without warning— changed the rules.
And so, these are not isolated cases. If the dress code has been changed for sensible reasons, it is the duty of the department to inform the public, and either keep a shawl aside for those who have not got the message, or get on with the job of encouraging Bahamians to register, and efficiently assisting them when they have taken off time to do their civic duty.