LONG lines at Doris Johnson Senior High School advanced poll. Photo: Donovan McIntosh/Tribune Staff
By MALCOLM STRACHAN
ALL the talk of the country being ready to run an election during a pandemic ran aground on Thursday amid the chaos of an advanced poll that showed we were far from prepared.
Worse, on the same day as we saw people crowding together in order to exercise their vote, we also witnessed Health Minister Renward Wells announcing people in quarantine will be able to vote with seemingly no plan in place for how to deal with potentially infected people mingling with uninfected. How do we know there is no plan? Because it would have been in place for the advanced poll if there was – that was already a moment when people may have missed out on their chance to vote.
COVID is not the only reason to feel concerned about Thursday’s poll – there was plenty on show besides that to feel worried, from confusion over the process to follow for sealing ballots in Pinewood to the concerns over irregularities elsewhere.
Perhaps the most unedifying example was the sight of former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham being turned away when he arrived to cast his vote. He returned later – but how many others might not return to cast their vote if they encounter similar problems on election day, particularly with the length of queues that might be expected. Indeed, how many will not be able to return because they have to work?
There is no excuse for a lack of preparation. This was not an election the FNM had to call right now. This was a choice. If the country was not ready to hold an election, that should have played a part in the timing, particularly in the middle of a surge of the pandemic.
Just look at the turnaround from the end of August when National Security Minister Marvin Dames shrugged off the prospect of people in quarantine voting when he said: “Would you like to have a COVID positive voter next to you? What does quarantine mean?... Quarantine is quarantine. If someone has COVID and they’re in quarantine, they’re quarantined for a reason... I mean look, you have people who are incarcerated on Election Day, you have people who are hospitalised on Election Day. You have people who are out of the country on Election Day and they may be registered voters, but they can’t vote because of the circumstances and so, we’ll see.”
That same day, Mr Wells was singing the same tune. “From the Ministry of Health’s standpoint, we’re taking the position that they probably will not be able to vote,” he said.
“But again, as I’ve always said that has to come from the Prime Minister via the cabinet of The Bahamas, but there are recommendations in that regard by health personnel... Think about it now, how are you going to let someone who is in quarantine and who has the potential to affect other persons to go out into a polling station?”
That’s exactly what he seems to be talking about letting happen now. So what discussions were held on the subject? What plans were considered?
Why not release all communications with the Attorney General on the legal position of denying quarantined individuals a vote, given that opposition to letting them vote, so entrenched at the turn of the month, has crumbled so quickly in the face of a threat of legal action?
For that matter, why not release the details of plans considered to find a way for those people to vote? What considerations were given to proxy voting, drop-off boxes and so on? Is it possible such details won’t be released because no consideration was ever given to such matters?
As it stands right now, someone in quarantine has no idea of what they are supposed to do to be able to cast their vote on election day, other than show up and stand in line like everyone else. This should not be the case. Everything should be spelled out clearly in advance so everyone knows what they will be dealing with. How many people with health worries might decide to avoid the lines to vote because they too are asking the question asked by senior ministers only two weeks ago of how can you let a COVID-positive voter stand next to you?
Even without COVID, there are other problems. People were waiting in line for hours at some stations, and that shouldn’t be the case regardless. What if you can’t wait for hours? Are we driving away the elderly and those with disabilities from the electoral process? Whoever wins the election should take a serious look at how to do things better. We don’t need to look far – other countries are already steps ahead of us.
For now, it seems our plan is to cross our fingers and hope for the best. That should never be the best case scenario when it comes to deciding our future.