THE EDITOR: The advertisement from the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) promised: “To vote is simple, quick…easy and safe.” We trusted the veracity of the statement and, like a lamb to the slaughter, left home to do our civic duty.
We had voted at the Tacarigua Anglican School for over 30 years. We are usually among the 6 am voters, but this time we left home about 9.30 am. We expected the EBC’s promise would still be valid. Usually, we would complete the voting process in ten minutes. Judging from the line, I gave it 45 minutes.
We entered the polling station at 9.40 am. There were different lines for the various polling station numbers at that address. We were Polling Station No 1741. A helpful woman police officer directed us to the correct line.
The sun was blazing hot and my husband, not quite believing that sunlight would keep me covid19-free and, doubting my ability to withstand the punishing sun, returned to the car to fetch an umbrella to provide me with shade.
Over an hour passed and we were still in line on the compound, but not yet inside the building. The police officer asked no one in particular why the line for polling station 41 was moving so slowly. It is a question to which I, too, wanted an answer. Other lines were moving much more quickly.
Eventually, we were inside the building. Standing for long periods was not my forte. Soon, I felt constrained to request a chair and was directed to one. Shortly after, another officer told me that since I was not in my voting area I should remove the chair into that area. After I had complied, she came and informed me she needed the chair for a heart patient. I immediately relinquished the chair.
Shortly afterwards, a hostile police officer approached me and gave me a lecture about a chair not being a luxury. I was at a loss as to what she meant. She later sought to explain, but I was no wiser.
I was feeling a bit faint and hoped I would not collapse. I imagined seeing later newspaper headlines: “Former Independent senator waiting to vote collapses in polling station.” I wished I had gone to bed earlier the night before and had taken time to have a full breakfast.
I leaned against a post on the compound. Immediately behind me former minister Winston Dookeran, who had witnessed the game of musical chairs being played with me, also leaned against the post. I jokingly told him we should be careful they do not remove our post.
An old friend, way ahead of me in the line, came across, saying she had noticed my discomfort and had offered to give up her place to me but that her request had been denied.
The female officer who had taken away the chair later offered me another chair. I declined, for fear of suffering more embarrassment. Mind you, there were other chairs on the compound, but only the one I occupied seemed to attract attention.
As we neared the door to our polling station, my brother-in- law and his wife entered the building, walked into their polling station and completed their voting process in five minutes. When I entered our booth I asked the clerk why our line was taking so long. She began explaining about covid19. I told her I was not comparing voting that day to former years, but voting on the same compound, but at different stations. She could not say.
There must be monitoring and evaluation of systems so management and workers can identify problems and address them. The electoral process must cater to the needs of all who use it, the elderly, infirm and those temporarily disabled. People serving the public must be caring, polite and respectful.
Had I been less committed I might have left without voting, but I know the importance of the right to vote that many have fought and died for and which today many take lightly.
After spending two hours and 25 minutes (workers are only allowed two hours off from work to vote), we left the school satisfied that we had done our civic duty, despite the challenges. Voting was a simple and safe process, but for us it was by no means quick or easy. It was a long and uncomfortable experience, but one I would never shirk.