Election Law Amendments Address Overseas Voting Restrictions
NASSAU, Bahamas — Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham introduced amendments to the Parliamentary Elections Act on Monday that would allow Bahamian students in Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago to vote at consulates in those countries, and to allow for international monitoring agencies to observe the upcoming general election.
The legislation also seeks to modify the provision that determines the size of the ballot boxes for overseas voting so that they can fit into the overhead compartments of airplanes.
Ingraham said parts of the law are too restrictive.
“The government has determined that the time has come in The Bahamas to permit independent observers to observe our election process and in order for that to happen the law has to be amended to accommodate it,” he said.
“We have one of the most restrictive laws anywhere for what happens in a polling station. For instance, you will notice that in any part of the world a television camera would be in the polling booth showing when somebody votes, etc., not all day but it will show you a candidate voting. We don’t allow that in The Bahamas. You [have] to be outside the door.”
Ingraham told reporters last Wednesday that he would welcome any organization that wants to monitor the election.
“They can let us know and we will facilitate them and accommodate them, whether it’s the OAS (Organization of American States), the United States of America, the UN (United Nations), whoever monitors elections in the world. If they want to come to The Bahamas to see how an election is done, they can come,” he said.
“We are going to have an open, fair and transparent process and so we are taking time to ensure the election procedures and things that need to be done, are done, prior to calling an election.”
Turning to the amendment that would allow students in the three Caribbean nations to vote, Ingraham noted that there are University of West Indies campuses on those island nations where The Bahamas does not have embassies.
He noted however that there are honorary consuls on those islands.
Asked by a sitting member if the government would seek to establish consuls in other Caribbean countries, Ingraham repeated, “We can accommodate Barbados, Trinidad and Jamaica.
“That is what I can accommodate. That is what I am proposing at the moment.”
He said he wishes he could establish voting stations across the world.
Previous amendments made to the bill last year, will also allow students to vote in Miami, Atlanta, Washington, New York, London, and Toronto.
Under the new legislation, polling places will be established at Bahamian embassies and high commissions.
In addition to students, Bahamians eligible to vote outside the country would include staff of Bahamian embassies, high commissions or other foreign missions of The Bahamas posted overseas and their spouses or members of their immediate families residing with them.
Public officers or Ministry of Tourism staff on official duty outside of the country and staff of the Bahamas Maritime Authority or any other agency of the government are also eligible to vote outside of the country.
Voting would take place on the same day as the advanced poll and at the end of that poll the sealed ballot boxes would be returned to The Bahamas and delivered to the parliamentary commissioner.
Debate is expected to begin on the new amendments on Wednesday.
By Krystel Rolle
The Nassau Guardian