By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Tribune Chief Reporter
AS historical voter trends have seen around 100,000 people register for voting in the past four months before the register closes, constituting a new voter’s register does not fall in line with COVID-19 protocols, according to Parliamentary Commissioner Philip Turner.
This is why it may make more sense to use the existing register, which would only require newly eligible citizens – about 15,000 to 20,000 of them, to register.
However, it would require an amendment to the law.
These options, Mr Turner told The Tribune yesterday, have been presented to the government. Officials await a final decision, he said.
The current voter’s register presently stands at more than 187,000. That is roughly 126,000 in New Providence, 30,000 in Grand Bahama, and 30,000 throughout the Family Islands.
“(It) would be a massive undertaking and in a COVID environment no doubt staff of the Parliamentary Registration Department potentially would be exposed to persons who may be positive and there would be gatherings where they could potentially expose each other in this particular environment,” Mr Turner told The Tribune.
“So we thought it fitting to put the options available to the government as to whether they may wish to consider maintaining the status quo, which is what the law requires to do now or proceed to what we refer to as another option which is where we proceed to a permanent register and by that the view was that we would maintain the existing register. Its present composition and thereby we would only need to register persons who are not presently included on this current register who are qualified to be on the register.”
He added: “… We’re presently at 187,000. If that option were to be accepted where we proceed with a permanent register, we expect that no more than another 15,000 to 20,000 persons would need to be added to that amount.”
With about 18 months until the 2022 election must be held, Mr Turner said there was still time for the needed amendments. This rests with the Office of the Attorney General and the Law Reform Commission.
“Now if the government were to accept the position that they were to proceed with a permanent register, that would require certain amendments to the law. Those amendments would fall under the responsibility of the Office of the Attorney General and particularly the Law Reform Commission who has responsibility for drafting legislation.
“They have to put forward certain amendments to be able to effect the permanent register and all of those positions are with the government for consideration.
“Article 66 of the Constitution states that an election must be held no later than five years after the first sitting of Parliament. The first sitting of this Parliament occurred on May 24, 2017 so five years there about from that would take you to around May of 2022. We are roughly about 18 to19 months away from that.”
He continued: “You would be aware that the Constitution also allows for the prime minister that discretion to as we say to call an election when he sees fit, but within the constraints of the Constitution so that having been said from a timeliness stand point administratively we feel confident that there is enough time.
“Now having said that, operating not in the status quo, which is the law as it is now, administratively the Parliamentary Registration Department normally conducts the preparing of the new register, which is that register in readiness.
“We normally go to the public at least a year prior to the expiration of the current register and as I referred earlier this register that we’re on now, which is referred to as the current register, will expire in July 2021 and so that activity of beginning that process under the existing system would have started no later than July of this year.
“But you would be aware that the pandemic would have faced us as early as March of this year and there were various lockdowns and emergency orders and so that position was put to the government for consideration.
“So, we have not proceeded to conduct any registration on a new register which would call for the changing of the colour of the voter’s card as we’ve done historically.
“We are waiting for the government to determine whether they would proceed and maintain the status quo or proceed to a permanent register. Once that is determined then we’d be so guided and proceed.”