By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Tribune Chief Reporter
THE government has decided to implement a permanent voter register and plans to table an amendment to the Parliamentary Elections Act “by next week” to effect the change, according to Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis yesterday.
Dr Minnis also sought to put to rest rumours that an election could be sooner than May 2022.
“Election is due I think (in) May 2022,” Dr Minnis told reporters yesterday. “That’s what I know. Election is not due until May ‘22 so they can talk whatever they want to, that’s when it’s due.”
When asked about the status of the voter register, he said: “I think we’re bringing the bill to Parliament I believe this week. If not this week definitely by next week, but I’m hoping that we’ll be able to table it on Wednesday.
“This bill would keep the names on the register, be permanent, and only new names are added and at the same time throughout the year you can purge the register in terms of those individuals who have died or moved to some other destination outside of the country, live abroad, etc.
“So, you’ll have a permanent register and just continuous addition, but it’ll also give us an opportunity, give the Bahamian populace an opportunity to continue an assessment of the list and you won’t have any aberrant additions.”
Parliamentary Commissioner Philip Turner said back in September that he proposed to the government that the Parliamentary Elections Act be amended for the upcoming election, to allow for a permanent voters’ register or a continuous one.
The recommendation was made based on challenges presented by COVID-19.
Speaking at the Ministry of National Security’s press conference last month, Mr Turner said the COVID–19 pandemic had seriously affected the department’s operations prompting officials to have discussions on the “in-person registration process in a COVID-19 environment.”
He said key concerns brought up by officials included the health and safety risks posed to both the department’s staff members and the public. He said officials were also concerned about a reduced public participation as a result of COVID fears.
In view of this, he said: “The parliamentary commissioner is proposing to The Bahamas government that amendments be made to the Parliamentary Elections Act. This would involve replacing the five-year voters’ register with a permanent or continuous one.
“This process would require maintaining the existing register, registering only new voters, transferring existing voters who have changed residence, that is, living three or more months in a new place or residence and removing the deceased and incarcerated from the current register.
“The current register, which is due to expire in July 2021, will be virtually indistinguishable from any new register prepared for the 2022 general elections, save for those persons who have died since the last election, that will be removed from the current register, and those new voters added from July 2021 up to the closing of the register for the general elections.”
According to Mr Turner, the current voters’ register presently stands at 187,616. That is roughly 130,000 in New Providence, 30,000 in Grand Bahama, and 30,000 throughout the Family Islands.
By establishing a permanent register or an extension of the current one, Mr Turner said there would be several advantages allowing for a smooth process. The amendments, he also noted, will fall in line with COVID-19 protocols.