Dr Faith BYisrael
Yes, I am a politician. Yes, I am a candidate in the upcoming Tobago House of Assembly elections, but this article is not about politics. Before I became actively involved in politics, I just voted on election day, without really thinking about the electoral process in TT. In this article, I will try to answer the questions of the “average man” as it relates to elections.
WHAT LAWS GOVERN OUR ELECTIONS?
The Representation of the People Act, Chapter 2:01 is the main law that governs all actions and activities relating to national, local government and Tobago House of Assembly elections. There is also a set of “subsidiary legislation” that specifically outlines the rules that must be followed for free and fair elections to occur. Some of the rules and regulations outlined include: who is allowed to vote, who is allowed to be a candidate, the process of voting as a special elector, the functions of each employee of the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC), and offences relating to elections.
HOW IS TOBAGO DIVIDED?
There are 12 electoral districts (seats) in Tobago. Each electoral district has approximately 4,000 electors (electors is the official name for individuals who are registered to vote). Each electoral district is further sub-divided into polling divisions. In Goodwood/Belle Garden West for example, there are five polling divisions (Belle Garden, Glamorgan, Pembroke, Goodwood and Mt St George), each with between 500 and 1,200 electors. Depending on the number of electors in each polling division, a division may be further sub-divided into polling stations. For example, Goodwood (polling division no 5,065) has over 1,100 electors, so there are two polling stations (5065-1 and 5065-2).
WHAT IS A “PROSPECTIVE CANDIDATE”?
Although a party may publicly announce who it is sending to contest each seat, that person is not considered a “candidate” until they have been duly nominated. Therefore, individuals who are contesting classify themselves as “prospective candidates” until after nomination day.
WHAT HAPPENS ON NOMINATION DAY?
On nomination day, the prospective candidates are required to do two things: submit a series of documents and pay your nomination fee ($5,000 for the general election and $2,000 for the Tobago House of Assembly election). One of the documents submitted is a “nomination paper” which includes the names and signatures of individuals who can vote in the electoral district, who are “nominating” you to represent them. Only after these two activities have been successfully completed can you say that you are officially a candidate.
CAN YOU WEAR “POLITICAL COLOURS” IN THE POLLING STATION?
The law is clear. On election day you are not allowed to have anything with the symbol or name of a political party within 100 yards of the polling station. This is to prevent anyone from trying to convince or intimidate you into voting for a particular party. You are allowed to wear any colour clothing that you wish.
WHY SHOUT NUMBERS IN A POLLING STATION?
Each person who votes is counted. In other words, each person is given a consecutive number, to ensure that the number of people who voted, matches the number of ballot papers that are counted at the end of the night. For example, if 120 people voted, the last person would be given the consecutive number 120, and when they are counting up the ballot papers, there should be 120 papers in the box. The consecutive number is not written on your ballot paper.
CAN ANYONE KNOW WHO YOU VOTED FOR?
The simple answer is no! No one knows who you voted for unless you tell them. The consecutive number that is shouted by the Polling Clerk is not written on your ballot paper, so there is nothing to show which ballot paper belongs to you.
CAN YOU VOTE WITHOUT A POLLING CARD OR IF YOUR ID IS EXPIRED?
Every elector should receive a polling card, which is a document stating where their polling station is. Even if you have not received this document, you are still allowed to go out and vote, as long as your name if on the registered list of voters. Your name should be on the registered list of voters as long as you are over the age of 18 and have a national ID Card. You can vote even if you ID card is expired.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE RED LINE AND GREEN LINE?
If you have your ID and your polling card, you are sent into the green line to collect your ballot paper to vote. If you do not have your ID or your polling card, you will be sent to the red line to verify that your name is on the list and a polling card would be created for you. You would then be given a ballot paper to cast your vote.
To vote is the right of every citizen residing on this island. Election day is possibly the only time when all Tobagonians over the age of 18 are truly equal, because each person has one vote. I am encouraging everyone to come out and vote on election day. It is an opportunity to directly influence who governs this island, and it’s a privilege that you should not waste.
If you have any other questions, please feel free to contact me directly, and I will try to answer them.
Dr Faith BYisrael is a health educator, social scientist, public health specialist and politician.
Email address: DrFaith@ImaniConsulting.Org
Phone number: 494-8827
Facebook Page: @ImaniConsultingAndFoundationTobago