NASSAU, BAHAMAS — National Security Minister Marvin Dames acknowledged yesterday there is a “race against the clock” to make the decision regarding the current voter register, which is set to expire July 2021.
During a national security press conference on the efforts of the ministry during the COVID-19 pandemic, Parliamentary Commissioner Philip Turner presented a report outlining the challenges and recommendations of his department.
Turner advised that the pandemic has caused delays to the start of the National Voters’ Registration Exercise, originally scheduled for July, as well as delays to the Local Government Elections in the Family Islands and the School Board Elections.
He said he has made recommendations to the government to amend the Parliamentary Elections Act to replace the five-year voters’ register with a permanent or continuous register.
Turner explained the process would require maintaining the existing voter register, only registering new voters, transferring existing voters who have changed residence and removing the deceased and incarcerated from the current register.
He noted that consultations have been held with various stakeholders regarding the voter registration options, including the Cabinet of The Bahamas, the Free National Movement, the Progressive Liberal Party, the Democratic National Alliance, independents, the Bahamas Christian Council, the Bahamas Bar Association and over 100 members of civil society.
Asked how soon that decision could be made, Dames noted that the consultation phase is still ongoing.
He said Cabinet will await an update from the Parliamentary Commissioner before it makes a decision.
“We are on the clock,” Dames said. “We ought to have started registration from July of this year.
“We are now in October; we are cognizant of that. The register is still active and so we have to make some decisions.”
Dames insisted that whatever the government decides, it will not “disenfranchise anyone”.
“We are in the COVID-19 era,” the minister said.
“We are very cognizant of that, but we want every eligible voter to vote and for their vote to be counted.
“We want everyone who is eligible to register. Whatever decision we make at the end of the day, that is at the forefront.”
Voter turnout in the last general election was 88 percent with 160,409 registered voters casting their ballots.
A total of 181,543 people registered to vote.
Other jurisdictions have implemented alternatives to in-person registering and voting, using remote technologies such as online registration and voting by mail.
Turner further advised that there will be a clear plexiglass barrier between all registrants and Parliamentary Registration Department staff during the voters’ registration process.
The registration stations in New Providence will be at the BCPOU Hall, Grant’s Town Wesley Church Hall, Town Centre Mall Post Office, The Mall at Marathon, Cable Beach Post Office, Carmichael Road Post Office, and Elizabeth Estates Post Office, according to officials.
The registration stations in Grand Bahama will be in West End, Hawksbill, Eight Mile Rock, Freeport and East Grand Bahama.
Additionally, registration stations will be at each administrator’s office throughout the Family Islands.
The next general election in The Bahamas must be held no later than May 2022, Turner pointed out.