Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Elections - 6. Voting

Today we are going to look at the law and procedure relating to voting.  This is the procedure by which we attend at a Polling Station on Election Day and select our candidate for membership in the House of Assembly.  That is the role we play in selecting a new Government.  After we have voted, the Constitution provides for the elected members of the Assembly to inform the Governor who they wish to be the new Chief Minister.  The Chief Minister is sworn in to office, and he then informs the Governor who he wants to be his or her Ministers.  The Governor then swears in the Ministers selected by the Chief Minister.
The law on voting is found in two places, the Constitution, and the Elections Act.  The relevant provisions of the Constitution are sections 43 and 44.  Section 43 is straightforward.  It is titled “Qualification of voters”, and it reads:
Qualification of voters
43. (1) Subject to the next following subsection a person shall be qualified to be registered as a voter in an electoral district if he is of the age of eighteen years and upwards and—
(a) is a British Dependent Territories citizen born in Anguilla, and is domiciled there at the qualifying date; or
(b)     (i) is a person who belongs to Anguilla who has resided in Anguilla for a period of not less than twelve months immediately before the qualifying date, and is domiciled there at that date, and is the lawful spouse, widow or widower, or the son or daughter or the spouse of such son or daughter of a person who was born in Anguilla; or
(ii) is a person who belongs to Anguilla who is domiciled in Anguilla and has resided there for a period of at least five years immediately before the qualifying date; and
(c) is at the qualifying date resident in the electoral district in which he claims to be registered.
      (2) Every person who is qualified to be registered as a voter in any electoral district shall be entitled to be so registered provided that a person shall not be registered as a voter in more than one electoral district.
You will notice that there are 4 qualifications for a person to be capable of voting in Anguilla.  First, he or she must be a belonger of Anguilla. Second, the voter must be aged 18 or upwards.  Third, if the voter was not born in Anguilla, but is married to an Anguillian or is the child or spouse of a child of an Anguillian, he or she must have resided in Anguilla for not less than 12 months immediately before the relevant date and be domiciled here at that date.  If, on the other hand, he or she is a belonger, but is not married to or the child of an Anguillian, then he or she must be domiciled in Anguilla and have resided here for at least 5 years before the relevant date.
Fourth, the voter must be resident in the Electoral District in which he or she claims to be registered.  We can only be registered in one District.  I deal in greater detail with the requirement for residence in the first talk I gave on this topic.  However, it is so important it bore repetition.
The second section of the Constitution which governs who can be a voter in Anguilla is section 44.  This reads:
Disqualification of voters
44. (1) No person shall be qualified to be registered as a voter who—
(a) is under sentence of death . . .or is under a sentence of imprisonment . . . exceeding twelve months . . .;
(b) is a person certified to be insane or otherwise adjudged to be of unsound mind under any law in force in Anguilla; or
(c) is disqualified for registration as a voter by any law in force in Anguilla relating to offences connected with elections . . .
These are what are called the disqualification of voters provisions.  The first one is if we are under a sentence of death.  The second is if we are insane.  The third is if we have been convicted of an election offence that carries the penalty of disqualification to vote.
Since the passage into law by the Anguilla House of Assembly of the Elections (Amendment) Act, 2014, the procedural requirements for voting under the Elections Act have become more significant.
Previous to the coming into effect of the Amendment Act on 31 October 2014, the provisions for voting were governed by Part 4 of the Elections Act.  This consists of sections 26 to 62 of the Act, and they are too long to put up as a slide.  Basically, we turn up to the Polling Station in our District on election day, and take our place in the line.  We enter the polling station and declare our name, residence and occupation, making sure we accurately repeat the information on the Voters List, so there is no confusion about who we are.  New section 49A authorises the presiding officer to check our fingers for electoral ink before we are given a ballot and allowed to vote.
Ballot paper not to be given to voter unless no marks of electoral ink appear on voter
49A (1) Subject to the provisions of section 49D, every presiding officer shall refuse to give any ballot paper to any voter unless he is satisfied that there does not appear –
(a) Upon the appropriate digit of that voter; or
(b) In the case of a voter who the presiding officer is satisfied is suffering from an injury to the appropriate digit, upon any other digits of that voter;
any mark of electoral ink.
It is clear from this new section 49A that the presiding officer will not give us a ballot unless he or she is satisfied that we do not have any electoral ink on our finger.
After we have been issued with our ballot, we enter the polling booth and mark our “X” against the name of our preferred candidate.  We then return to the presiding officer and deliver our folded ballot to the presiding officer who removes the counterfoil.
At that point the presiding officer used previously to return the ballot to us so we could deposit it in the ballot box. 
Now, new section 49B provides that, upon receiving our marked ballot, and before removing the counterfoil, the presiding officer must ensure that we dip our finger in the electoral ink provided.
(3)  If any voter on being required to immerse his appropriate digit or any other digit as required under subsection (1) in the electoral ink fails or refuses to immerse his digit, the presiding officer shall immediately destroy the ballot paper handed to him by that voter in the presence of the poll clerk and of the agents of the candidates and shall make an entry in the poll book setting out the particulars in relation to the destruction of the ballot paper.
If we refuse to dip our finger in the ink, the presiding officer is required to destroy the ballot, and to make an entry in the poll book setting out the particulars.
Electoral ink is internationally recognised as a good security feature to prevent double voting in elections.  The ink normally contains silver nitrate, which stains the skin on exposure to ultraviolet light, leaving a mark that is almost impossible to wash off quickly and is only removed as external skin cells are replaced.  It usually also contains a biocide to ensure bacteria are not transferred from voter to voter. 
Previously, voters and candidates who realised that fraudulent registration of voters was going on with the intention of having party supporters vote in more than one constituency, had to go through the expensive, time consuming, and inconvenient process of filing an objection.  These objections can still be made, and they have to be heard by the Magistrate.  The process invariably causes ill feelings in the community, and many politicians prefer to keep silent, and not make an objection, for fear of offending whole families, some of whom might otherwise have voted in his or her favour.  The strategy used to counter this illegal practice, appears to have been to try to get as many of your own party supporters to illegally register in as many other constituencies as possible.
Now, there will be an independent, fair, and transparent method of ensuring that double voting cannot take place in the future.  It is inexpensive and easy to administer.  It does not require any complicated computer systems or technical expertise to make it work. So, in future, however many constituencies I am registered in, I will only be able to vote in one.  I am sure we will all agree that this is one of the most admirable and important electoral reforms in recent history in Anguilla.