“With regard to fixed dates – whether the system is changed or not the EMB (Electoral Management Body) must know when the election is being called and the date must be suitable for the highest turnout,” said recently retired Parliamentary Commissioner Errol Bethel in his address to a public sitting of the Constitutional Review Commission on Friday, 18th January 2013.
Stopping short of calling for a fixed date for general elections, Mr. Bethel recommended guidelines for the setting of election dates such as outside of the hurricane season; a time when most Bahamians are not inclined to travel (and in the country) and other considerations that would cause the least amount of inconvenience to the general public, thus maximising voter turnout.
When asked about the efficacy of the Election Court, Mr. Bethel expressed the view that certain statutory powers of the Election Court as is presently constituted could be transferred to the Parliamentary Commissioner’s Office, where a statute body could bring about speedy resolutions to electoral disputes instead of the current and lengthy process of an Election Court hearing.
“For instance, if you are being nominated and you are rejected and you don’t think that is right you have no recourse than to wait until after the election then go to the Election Court” Bethel said.
Bethel continued: “There are people who would advocate that why don’t you have a body that can resolve that situation and move on. And if you can be accepted it can be done in a day or two, and put it behind you.”
In other regional jurisdictions, Parliamentary Commissioners are equal to Supreme Court judges in their statutory powers pointed out Mr. Bethel.
“Most of them (Parliamentary Commissioners) are at the level of Supreme Court judges and they resolve most of the issues that would arise” said Mr. Bethel.
On the major question of residency, Mr. Bethel feels that although a recent amendment was made to the Parliamentary Elections Act allowing persons to legally vote after an absence of up to one year, more should be done to more effectively address the issue of residency.
“There perhaps need to be some consideration given to appointing permanent Revising Officers for the various constituencies. Such persons would get to know their constituencies and would be in a better position to monitor movements, especially if we ever decide to keep constituencies beyond five years and we continue to vote based on residency,” said the former Parliamentary Commissioner.
Even though a quinquennial (changes every five years) voters’ register is more expensive to maintain than a permanent one, Mr. Bethel pointed out that it “is a more accurate register for a system such as ours where residency is of great importance.”
Mr. Bethel summed up his presentation to the commission by stating that “the Parliamentary Registration Department is a very important body in the country and it is time that the Department receives constitutional recognition.”
The Constitutional Review Commission appointed by Prime Minister Christie on August 1, 2012 under the chairmanship of Sean McWeeney, is on schedule to complete its consultative work and report its recommendations to the government by the 31st March 2013.
By Elcott Coleby
Bahamas Information Services