by JK Roberts
The sanctioned qualifications for a citizen of the Commonwealth to be registered as a voter for the purposes of elections of members of the House of Representatives of Grenada are outlined under section 32 of the national constitution, and the general supervision over the registration of such voter and over the conduct of such elections shall be exercised by a Supervisor of Elections (SoE) as outlined under section 35 of the said constitution.
The Parliamentary Elections Office (PEO) functioning as the office of the SoE is the constitutionally entrenched independent department of the government for electoral affairs which is guided by the Representation of the People Act (RPA). As should be the case for all legislations; the RPA stems from the constitution and so the contents and applications of the RPA must be in the spirit of intent of the constitution, in terms of facilitating free and fair elections. The PEO is the pivotal custodian of ensuring credible and satisfying elections, as is reflected in the sworn obligation of the SoE to “honour, uphold and preserve” the constitution. Unfortunately; glaring instances of irregularity and pomposity beg whether PEO is of good faith in its functions.
The showing of the PEO on the Grenada Broadcasting Network (GBN) “To The Point” programme on 16 October 2020 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bKjhB9gdwDs) ultimately gives rise to this two-part captioned article. The deserving calls of the voting public for clarifications on many critical issues pertinent to the electoral process have been left unsettled and most sadly there has been indication that genuine electoral reforms would not be realised before the next elections. Despite the absence of electoral reforms however, moral motivation with goodwill administration on the basic principles already existing with the RPA can effect a reasonable resemblance of justice and worth in the electoral process. Of particular focus is the need for the PEO to employ due diligence as relates to the registration of voters and the requirements for voting, including considerations on the integrity and security of the Computerised Voter Registration System and the purity of the Voters List.
Grenada seems to have two different avenues for the registration of voters; one of the routes is through online application on the government’s website and the other is through onsite application at the constituency offices of the PEO (https://www.gov.gd/peo/registration and http://www.peogrenada.org/). Then again; it may just be that the political directorate is assisting or acting on behalf of the PEO, since the National Portal outlines in its five Process Steps on “Citizens of Grenada can register to vote”, that after reviewing and submitting the uploaded Registration Form which must be completed with the accompanying information including digital fingerprints and signature, “You may be intimated to visit the Constituency Office with the originals for review before receiving the Voters Card”. Furthermore, it could be that the new trend of the PEO is to share or to contract out, or to delegate aspects of the electoral process to an external agency or an external individual. This detected (at least) 2 ways for registering voters must be analysed in the same tone and grounds for the noted private software company which is responsible for the computer equipment for producing voter identification cards and/or for voter registration, despite having a Computer System Administrator at the PEO.
If there is no statutory provision for online registering and online voting, then is the political administration with having all seats in Parliament, and in collaboration with PEO, contemplating to amend the RPA on the verge of the next elections to give legitimacy to a tremendous amount of people who have registered as possible electors through the National Portal? The apparent receiving of applications for registration to vote through this channel would favour the people in the Diaspora as well as those of the Citizenship By Investment (CBI) programme, but definitely with a baggage of discrepancies and speculations. As a further thought though; it seems that section 6 of the RPA on Entitlement To Registration is null and void, to the extent that it speaks about “a citizen of Grenada”, in violation of section 32 of the constitution which speaks only about “Commonwealth citizen”.
Somehow a group of politicians incorporated this ultra vires RPA regulation (“a citizen of Grenada”) for the qualifications to register to vote and they have taken severe advantage of it over the past many years, without the consciousness of the people. The special interest and purpose of the apparent unconstitutionality is to secure a flood of CBI’s holders from any nationality of the world and thereby enabling them to vote at Grenada’s elections and to sit in its Parliament. There is no need, except to deceive, to demarcate or to specify the citizens of Grenada from the Commonwealth citizens, since Grenada is captured institutionally as a part of the Commonwealth and that the constitution addresses the categories of citizens under Chapter VII on Citizenship. A legal opinion by the Grenada Bar Association toward a class-lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the RPA’s section 6 is thus imperative before the next elections. In fact, both sections 32 and 35 of the constitution should not be changed without a referendum which has been passed by the people according to section 39.
It must be very disturbing how the voter identification card is not given serious recognition and prominence within the statutory context of the RPA, especially on sections 24, 58 and 59. The PEO has being dishing-out misinformation about the use of the cards to the extent that misinterpretation, mystification and misapplication engulfed the voting public including political parties. Typical of the negative and nasty influence is the dreadful position on the main opposition party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC). The NDC’s Deputy Political Leader, Adrian “Persuader” Thomas, declared on the GBN’s 6 October 2020 To The Point programme https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hSmxYL_1SJ0&t=1796s) that the law (RPA) speaks to “once you name is on the (voter’s) list you can vote …. we have an administration that you cannot trust …. they can get up in the morning and go to parliament and pass a law and say if you don’t have an ID (card) you cannot vote ….”. How could Mr Thomas and his party be so badly misled and overpowered by the PEO, and/or how could they be so oblivious about the provisions of the electoral law(s); review the previous circulated article on this disappointing issue of the PEO’s influence and NDC’s laxity, “Could Grenada’s 2018 Voting Be Declared Unethical and Illegal?”
The right to cast a vote at elections including a referendum is conditional; this right is not ‘automatic or absolute’. Section 5 of the RPA stipulates that Subject to this Act, 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. Some of the other ‘voting requirements’ on the part of the presiding officer and the elector are presented under section 59 (Question to be put to voters and identification on card) and section 68 (Who may vote). Any of the political candidates, or his or her agent, for his/her constituency also has the legal authority to make objective requests or inquiries on those requirements during the polling process accordingly. Critically, an elector whose name is on the voter’s list can be debarred from voting if he or she does not satisfactorily answer the pertinent question(s) asked, and/or allowed, by the presiding officer and who does not produce the voter identification (ID) card when required to do so.
A similar inaccuracy peddled to effect false hope is on the issue of remaining on the voter’s list once registered. The right to remain registered in order to vote at elections is not ‘fixed, automatic, absolute or unconditional’. Section 10, RPA, highlights that subject to section 7 (Disqualification of electors), the name of a person can be deleted from the current voter’s list upon the factual determination and legal action of the SoE. It is instructive to know though that as it stands presently, the name of a duly registered elector or voter should not be removed from the voters’ list, nor should he/she be prevented from voting, because of not renewing their expired voter ID card, and/or for failing to be re-registered, as may be administratively ordered by the PEO.
It is also stupefying how the official representatives of PEO on GBN’s programme tend to defend their operations, stance and uprightness; and particularly how they trivialised the pertinent uncertainties of the people on the integrity and security of the Computerised Voter Registration System. Their focus has been mainly on trying to put to rest the concerns about the 2 missing computer systems which were used for the registration of voters, but without making any reference to the other wide possibilities which those systems can be illegally subjected to; review the previously internet-circulated article “Forensic Inquiry Imperative About Grenada’s Computerised Voter Registration System (Part One and Part Two)”. In fact, by the like manner that those PEO’s senior technocrats can tastelessly and shamelessly use the RPA’s Form No. 34 with the silly excuse to capture information for replacing the expired voter cards, the central voter registration computer system can be used with ‘administrative (in)discretion’ to tally and transmit the results of elections for devious reasons.
Moreover, it must be realised that the issue is not merely about the technical connection of the missing computers to the main computer server, but more-so that a judicial account must be given about the circumstances related to the stealing of such critical government’s property and with a finding on the culprit(s), after 8 years and counting. Is it impossible to trace and to determine where (if) the digital fingerprinting equipment is being used and for what reason? Were those computers for the 2 neighbouring elections constituency offices configured to ensure that no data about the registered (properly or fraudulently) voters could be stored on their hard drives? It must not be missed that even with all of the reports about the possible infiltration and rigging (including by external forces) of the electoral system of the great United States of America, the PEO’s technocrats are giving vehemently that there is no way by which the Computerised Voter Registration System can be interfered with or hacked into. Isn’t it thus very questioning as to whether or not the PEO is conniving or forthright, and that this is a fitting question also for Parliament by Leader of the Opposition, Hon. Tobias Clement especially as a former and possibly a future candidate for one of those constituencies?
The lingering debate on the computerised voter registration system, the apparent online registration of voters, the sluggish processing of expired voter ID cards, the “juicy gossips” misinformation and false conclusion on the voters’ list and voter cards, and the hesitation to address promptly the reports of the election missions reinforce the previously posted article “Grenada’s Voting Process Setting For More Controversies and Contempt”.
The merit of the various analyses and reports, as well as the professional commentaries on the outcomes of the elections is tremendous for genuine reforms. If, however serious response is not meant for the findings, concerns and recommendations of the official Elections Observer Missions, then there is no need to invite them during elections; their presence would be merely a show, formality or symbolism of fake practices of democracy.
Significantly; both missions from the secretariats of Caricom (Caribbean Community) and OAS (Organisation of American States) at the March 2018 elections confirmed and illuminated all of the major concerns and objections raised by civil society organisations and other pertinent persons, about the tone and mode of the PEO on the electoral process. In the efforts to advance democracy and political stability and national prosperity, those missions emphasised the need to ensure “public confidence and trust in the overall integrity of the electoral process”. In good preparations for active participation in any forthcoming consultations on electoral reforms, it is hereby advised to read carefully the RPA and its amendments https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BxZ4k2QNGAjfQkdlRUhkTmxGZGM/view and http://www.peogrenada.org/, as well as the recent verdicts by the elections missions (https://today.caricom.org/2018/03/15/caricom-observer-mission-releases-preliminary-statement-on-grenada-elections/) and https://www.oas.org/documents/eng/press/Preliminary-Statement-OAS-Electoral-Experts-Misson-Grenada.pdf.
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