EBC must lead voting reform

Tobago voters get instructions at the Lambeau Anglican Primary School. - Jeff K. Mayers
Tobago voters get instructions at the Lambeau Anglican Primary School. - Jeff K. Mayers

THE ELECTIONS and Boundaries Commission (EBC)’s cancellation of its late move to pilot a new data-collection system for Monday’s Tobago House of Assembly (THA) elections does not obviate the need for proper electoral reform

In fact, the EBC’s botched effort at exploring “parallel data collection” at voting stations on Monday appeared to be its strongest concession yet when it comes to acknowledging that its systems have long needed modernisation.

But the timing of the introduction of its cancelled scheme almost seemed designed to invite opposition.

The EBC issued election notices since October and it was the submission of its own report on boundaries weeks before that paved the way for Monday's election.

Yet many first heard of the new test measures only seven days before the poll, when the EBC asserted the system would not interfere with the voting process.

“As an independent and transparent institution, the commission saw it necessary to inform its stakeholders in the electoral process in Tobago of its intentions as it seeks to improve its delivery of service in the democratic process,” the EBC said on November 29 in a media release.

In its report on the January 2021 THA elections, no mention was made of the EBC’s desire – or even the need – for the project the EBC sought to implement. In fact, the commission said then, “There were no major incidents which negatively impacted the voting process. Election Day went as anticipated.”

But that there is need for change was evident even before Monday’s elections, with long lines and sluggish proceedings often reported by voters at successive polls in both Trinidad and Tobago.

However, the issues extend beyond voting-day systems.

The Prime Minister’s replies last Friday to queries about the fate of quarantined people or people with covid19 who wish to vote underlined the failure of the State to cater fully to the needs of voters in an era when contagious diseases are undermining the franchise.

While this country makes no provision to allow such people to vote, that is not the case in the US, where such individuals are allowed to vote in person or in special drive-through facilities, and in the UK, where they may appoint proxy voters.

Not only has the TT Government not facilitated these quarantined citizens – and it seems some people have trouble understanding the term “quarantine,” too – it has also repeatedly turned a blind eye to the need to introduce postal voting and to expand the classes of people designated special voters.

With covid19 variants and mutations in no short supply, and with the likelihood that more and more elections will be held under pandemic conditions, there is a pressing need to achieve consensus and to update our systems.

The EBC has a role to play in this and it cannot duck these issues.


"EBC must lead voting reform"

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