by JK Roberts
The pronouncement by an incoming prime minister of Grenada, purportedly to ridicule as being foolish the loss in general elections of a political party which was in government, is unfolding with reality.
An episode being played out by the government of the New National Party (NNP) to secure the next elections seems to be plotted on the expired Voter Identification Cards and apparently it has the Attorney-General, Minister for Legal Affairs, and the Parliamentary Elections Office (PEO) as the main characters. The PEO’s Press Release on 28 January 2020 forms the attractive poster, with a display of authority and backing and consciousness, for the political showdown. How then can elections be compromised for a particular result, but to the detriment of the nation?
Instructively; commenting on the 24 November 2016 failed constitutional referendum, Prime Minister, Keith Mitchell, said that he was at a loss as to why the bill to establish an Elections and Boundaries Commission was rejected when the present system allows for the government to control the electoral process. “Right now, the present system gives the government all the powers… where the government of the day can have all the interest it wishes to have in the electoral process.” (https://today.caricom.org/2016/11/25/no-vote-dominates-in-grenadas-constitutional-reform-referendum/). “…we have a constitution that says the Governor-General is appointed on the recommendation of the Prime Minister… the Governor-General then turns around and appoints the supervisor of elections. He (Supervisor of Elections) turns around and is accountable to the Governor-General and appoints all presiding officers, poll clerks and everything that exists in an election period….”; (https://www.gov.gd/egov/news/2016/nov16/30_11_16/item_3/referendum-cause-celebration-says-pm.html).
“Upon detailed examination of the Representation of the People Act (RPA), it is clear that there is no need for any amendments to facilitate the replacement of Voter Identification Cards which will all expire on 31 January 2020. The Parliamentary Elections Office (PEO) has been legally advised that the Act does not stipulate that Voter Identification Cards will expire on any given date. Therefore, expiration dates are a matter for administration of the Voter Identification Card system. As a result, the PEO has decided to proceed with the process of replacement of expired cards in keeping with the intent of the Act.” (https://www.grenadabroadcast.com/featured/replacement-of-expired-voter-identification-cards/).
The disappointing 28 January press release by the PEO, followed its calculatedly-delayed press conference of 10 January 2020 with the first time speaking to the issue of the expired voter cards and presenting some reasonable proposals for amending the RPA to assist in resolving the awkward situation of dealing with those cards, going ahead (https://www.nowgrenada.com/2020/01/parliamentary-elections-office-press-conference/).
Unfortunately, however, the press release could be construed as averting or violating and disgracing the intent and spirit of the RPA, as aborting the initial good-faith analysis and intention of the Ministry of Legal Affairs, as ignoring the professional and independent judgement of the Supervisor of Elections, as defying the need and cry for electoral reforms, and as an unconscionable reinforcement and justification and alibi for allowing a person to vote at the elections without the use of the voter card. It should not be of any surprise though, that whether or not the NNP wins the next elections, NNP would make utterances and moves to correct the raised abnormalities and disadvantages, including on the issue of the expired voter cards, which presently exist with the RPA.
For many critically-minded individuals, Grenada exhibits an atmosphere of maladministration in government, allegations of corruption in public life, questionable conduct of elections, and mistrust and anxiety by the people; but where there is a great desire and wish for a pathway of progressive prosperity. Administration must be led by good governance and democratic principles, by credible endeavours and professional judgements and by moral persuasions and legal provisions; without these parameters, chaos and mistreatment would prevail. As expressed in the previously internet-circulated article “Grenada’s Voter ID Card: How Legal and Applicable?”, the expired Voter Identification Cards must not be seen only as a transactional or financial concern, but of having constitutional consequence. Ambiguity, defect or silence in law on any issue, including administrative procedures, is a gap or licence to perpetuate abuses and crimes. Particularly, therefore the legal advice directed to PEO on the expired cards would thwart the sovereign rights and will of the people for free and fair elections.
Having no legal basis to replace an expired Voter Identification Card and no clear mandate to demand the card when voting, set the stage for the PEO to repeat and rivet its deceitful training, public relation and execution as was the case with the 13 March 2018 General Elections. The PEO would rely on sections 5 and 10 of the RPA, which speak about the right to vote and the right to remain registered. That is; “….a person is entitled to vote in an election in a constituency if, on polling day, he is qualified and registered as an elector in that constituency, and his name appears on the current list to be used for that constituency” and “….a person registered as an elector… shall remain registered, unless and until his name is deleted from the current list, by the Supervisor of Elections…”
Moreover; the PEO would conveniently accept that a person is unable to produce a valid voter card on polling day, in accordance with subsection 59(5a), “A ballot paper shall be delivered to any person whose name appears on the register in use for that election and who is unable to produce his or her identification card if he or she satisfies the presiding officer that he or she has not been issued with an identification card.”
There is no law, and no provision and/or regulation of the RPA, which quantifies a reasonable time for the Supervisor of Elections to issue a ‘valid’ voter identification card to a duly registered person. The Supervisor of Elections is not legally responsible to instruct and to compel a voter to carry and/or to produce his/her card to vote; and/or by extension, there is no legal punishment for any negligence on this issue. Even if there were pertinent legal conditions, complaints or objections on offences under RPA are usually attended-to days after elections, and in fact to realise justice is futile with a collapsed local judiciary. It must also be clear that a direct and logical inference from the press release is that there is no legal obligation for a person to comply with the PEO on replacing the expired cards; and additionally, there is no indication of goodwill to define legally a valid voter card. Despite; PEO now has an honourable responsibility to disclose publicly the “prescribed format” for the cards as contemplated in RPA, and the basis for the glitch in the software which generated those expiry cards.
The Grenadian people have also been ridiculed for rejecting the ill-intent Constitution of Grenada (Elections and Boundaries Commission) (Amendment) Bill 2016 purported to alter the Constitution of Grenada to establish an Elections and Boundaries Commission to carry out the functions formerly performed by the Supervisor of Elections and the Constituency Boundaries Commission, and it appears that every effort is made by the Mitchell-led NNP government for the people to pay, in retaliation for the result of the 24 November 2016 referendum.
The role of political parties and independent political enthusiasts for fostering confidence in the voting process cannot be overstated; considering though that some person, or sections of the society, engender and embrace confidence with encouraging a controlled or rigged voting process. Politicians must be seen as the main actors, beneficiaries, custodians and directors of the electoral machinery, including its legislative framework. Particularly; opposition parties have a ‘governance duty’ to advocate and agitate for integrity of the Voting List and for non-interference of the electoral system, including that of the PEO, especially if those parties are to have a good chance at getting in government in order to undertake its manifestos of plans and policies and projects.
The main opposition party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) seems to be clueless and careless about the strategy of its main political rival (the NNP) and about winning general elections. At least, NDC should have long ago captured the issue of the expired Voter Identification cards and be at a position to rally for the purging and upgrading of the voters’ list. To what extent then is the meaning and seriousness of the advice given by one of its losing candidates in the last elections, for “Only people with the Parliamentary ID Card must be allowed to vote”, as published in the Grenada Informer and The New Today on Friday, 6 April 2018.
So too; the aptitude of NDC would continue to be queried, especially with reference to its published writing “Electoral Reform before another Referendum” on the elections’ dismal failure “…If the system was manipulated to favour the incumbent, should the people of Grenada be asked to vote again …. without fixing the flaws in the current system?” (https://www.nowgrenada.com/2018/06/ndc-heartbeat-electoral-reform-before-another-referendum/).
Open questions on the recent press release by PEO/SOE
In accordance with the recent Press Release by the Parliamentary Elections Office (PEO) on expired Voter Identification Cards, the following is suggested as pertinent concerns for the media to quiz the Supervisor of Elections (SOE) as soon as possible and the government at its upcoming weekly Post-Cabinet press briefing aptly.
- Is the PEO or the SOE comfortable with the legal advice obtained?
- Has the Legal Affairs department satisfactorily address the three or four proposals raised at the earlier Press Conference by the PEO, especially in deciding should the replaced or new Voter Identification Cards “have a valid period of ten years…. whether it is a ten-year period (fixed expiry date) or a ten-year card (matures after ten years)”?
- What rationale and yardstick would be applied to overcome the “administrative hurdle” to replace expired Voter Identification Cards effectively, without any specific legal mechanism?
- Does an expired Voter Identification Card mean an illegal card?
- Is having an expiry date on the Voter Identification Card makes the card invalid and/or illegal?
- What constitutes a valid and/or legal Voter Identification Card?
- Is there a legal and/or administrative prescribed format for the Voter Identification Card? If yes; what is this “prescribed format”?
- Could an expired Voter Identification Card be used to vote in elections? If not; what is the legal basis for preventing an elector to vote with such a card?
- In summary, what is the intent of the Act (RPA)?
- How does administrative replacement of an expired Voter Identification Card, without any legal provision or backing, fulfil the intent of the Act?
- Is an elector legally obligated to replace his/her expired Voter Identification Card?
- Is it legally necessary for an expired Voter Identification Card to be replaced; and if yes, why or for what purpose?
- Could the administrative requirements that a registered elector presents his/her expired card, birth certificate or valid passport when making an application for a replacement of the expired Voter Identification Card, and has his/her photograph taken, his/her fingerprint scanned and his/her signature renewed withstand in a court of law?
- Is the SOE satisfied that he is acting within his constitutional appointment; with integrity, independence, discretion and intelligence, and with full confidence that the replacement of the expired Voter Identification Cards would meet the intent of the Act?
- Is the SOE convinced that the present Voter Identification Card is serving its ‘one and only’ constitutional purpose?
- Is there any legal recourse for an elector who has adequately applied for a replacement of his/her expired Voter Identification Card, but is unable to possess promptly a replaced or new card due to delay or failure in the administration of the Voter Identification Card system; also considering the opportunity cost which may result from this delay or failure?
There seems to be more contradictions, recklessness, confusion and suspicions with the legal advice given to the PEO, and there is no accountability for any software glitch (manufactured or otherwise) in producing the cards.