GENERAL elections are held by secret ballot, but that should be the only secret thing about them.
Yet to date, even after the Government and Opposition have held separate, closed-door meetings with the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC), voters have been given little insight into what changes are in store.
The Government lost an opportunity on Wednesday to address the questions looming over the arrangements. In fact, during debate of the Miscellaneous Amendments (No 2) Bill in the House, Minister of National Security Stuart Young made disclosures likely to raise further eyebrows.
Asked why the Government was amending the law to facilitate the deferral of an EBC report by as much as one year, Mr Young said the EBC had written to the Cabinet.
“It is as a result of covid19,” the minister said. “We looked at the law, we sought advice, and the advice is you have to amend the act. So we have taken the precaution and given them the opportunity. There is absolutely nothing untoward.”
In a further flourish, Mr Young added, “I guess it is because of the season that we are in and there is a belief that elections will be very soon people are getting jittery.” He sought to downplay the importance of the report, saying the information it supplies is already known.
Be that as it may, the Cabinet found the matter serious enough to warrant legal advice and furthermore amend the law, whether as a precaution or not.
And even factoring in the effects of the pandemic on all sectors of society, it must be a cause for concern that the EBC failed to submit its report when it was due in June, a month when Parliament sat 13 times amid the ongoing pandemic.
So it is not unreasonable to ask: to what extent have the operations of the EBC been affected by covid19? What other EBC processes might have been frustrated?
While the election date still resides in the Prime Minister’s back pocket, and while the notion of a postponement cannot be completely dismissed in these extraordinary times, there is need to address these questions. And to go even further.
What are the specific changes that might be introduced? When will the process of public education and forewarning begin? How will rallies, walkabouts and other activities on the hustings be regulated, if allowed? Has any entity given consideration to the need to expand the category of special electors to allow people stuck outside TT to vote?
The EBC’s mandate is so grave, elections so important as to require nothing less than complete transparency. That transparency is needed to ensure an orderly process and to assuage the concerns of all voters, particularly those with jitters.