Attorney General Levi Peter has sought to explain the process whereby the elector’s list can be cleansed during a town hall meeting in Goodwill on Thursday 18 May 2017.
The opposition United Workers’ Party (UWP) has made calls for electoral reform on many occasions indicating that it should be done before another general election is called.
Opposition Leader Lennox Linton via a Facebook live video on Sunday 7 May 2017 said, “We have said that without electoral reform, there will be no elections in Dominica. We will not have another election in Dominica without electoral reform.”
Registration of Elector’s Act
Mr. Peter explained in his address that Section 4 of the Registration of Electors Act provides for who is entitled to be registered adding that it is essentially very simple.
Section 4 states ‘Subject to this Act a person is entitled to vote as an elector at an election if on polling day he is qualified to be an elector for that polling district and is on that day registered on the register of electors to be used at that election.’
“So that makes it clear that anybody who is qualified and is on the register of electors for a particular polling district is entitled to vote on that day. That is an important point to bear in mind because it is protecting the entitlement of people to vote, their constitutional entitlement and some would wish to disenfranchise people from their right to vote,” he said.
The AG then highlighted the qualifications one would need to meet in order to vote in the Commonwealth of Dominica which can be found in Section 5 of the Constitution.
“[The] constitution provides that essentially a person is a citizen of the Commonwealth of Dominica, or a person who is a Commonwealth citizen and has resided in the Commonwealth of Dominica for a period of 12 months immediately before the qualifying date…a person who is 18 years of age and over and a person who has resided in that polling district for a continuous period of at least 3 months immediately preceding that date of their registration.”
He said added that Subsection 3 of the Elector’s Act provides for persons registered in one district but live in another saying, “Where a person is registered as an elector for a polling district has ceased to reside in that polling district, he shall not cease to be qualified as a registered elector for that polling district until he has become qualified to be an elector for another polling district…that is a protection of the right of each and every elector to vote”.
This, he said, means that every elector, once registered in a particular district though they may no longer reside there, is entitled to vote in their registered district unless he has become registered in another district or is disqualified for one reason or another.
Mr Peter informed that Section 6 of the Elector’s Act provides the basis of disqualification while Section 7 reemphasizes a person’s right to remain registered unless or until their name is deleted.
Names can be deleted from the register according to the Act if “A he has died, B an objection to his registration has been allowed, C he has been absent of Dominica for a period exceeding five years, or D he has become disqualified for registration as an elector under this Act or any other law imposing disqualification for registration as an elector.”
“As I have indicated, what that means is once registered a person remain registered unless and until essentially he becomes disqualified,” the attorney general said.
Cleansing of the list
With this said he addressed allegations that the registered list of eligible voters is “bloated”.
“We hear that the list is bloated and we hear there are people on the list who are dead, there are people on the list who have been living abroad in contravention of the Act and other things,” the AG said highlighting some of the complaints being made.
“Clearly you will realize that even if you clean the list this morning, somebody would have probably died between this morning and this evening, or between this morning and tomorrow, and this morning and the weekend, between this morning and next weekend.”
“So of course the idea of ‘cleansing the list’ to use the language that those who wish to take the government to task are using, is an ongoing process and at any given time there will be people on the list who for one reason or another ought not to be there.”
Mr Peter said most interesting is that he has not heard or seen any evidence of anyone who has voted in elections here in Dominica who was not entitled to do so.
“I cannot say that it hasn’t happened but I have not seen, nor has it been presented to me, any evidence of it occurring. I’ve heard stories of it allegedly occurring but I would imagine if it was occurring so frequently as suggested that it should not be difficult for those who say that it is happening to provide the evidence of it.”
The Elector’s Act, Mr Peter stated, provides the Chief Elections Officer, otherwise known as the Chief Registering Officer, to take certain actions to ensure that there is an ongoing list which is up to date and which has on it only people who are entitled, according to law, to exercise their franchise and to vote in any election.
However he said “as a matter of common sense apart from anything else”, one would also recognize the Chief Elections Officer is located at a particular location having available to him a limited amount of resources in terms of personnel and other material.
The Attorney General further offered some advice to those who constantly call for the cleansing of the registered voters’ list indicating that they can contribute.
“What I would do, if I was a person who was very concerned as some profess to be…particularly if I was a part of a political party that felt that I was being disadvantaged by this so called bloated list, I would ensure that as a party organizes itself so as to make sure that in each and every constituency we took a note of those people who have died during any period.”
Peter continued, “Each of the major parties, he said, sends candidates in all twenty-one constituencies so I would imagine that there is a party machinery in operation in all of those constituencies and if there isn’t, it is the responsibility of those parties to do so. So it ought not to be difficult, particularly in a very small society like ours, to know who died in each and every one of those small communities that we live in”.
In doing so, Mr Peter said, at the end of any given period there will be a list of people who have died which then can be presented to the Chief Election’s Officer.
“And to say sir [or] madam, these are people who have died within constituency A or within polling district B during the period X to Y and we would like you to remove them from the list. As far as I am understanding, that is not something that has occurred with any great degree in Dominica.”
Mr. Peter added that some time ago when experts were on island to assist in Dominica’s electoral process, their visit coincided with the publishing period of the voter’s list.
“The list was published inviting people if they have objections to people on the list to make those objections and the point was made that during that period, these experts who were here to assist us…with our electoral process were not aware of a single objection being made to any name on that list.”
Mr Peter added that this indicates to him there is no problem with the list as some claim but it is “really that is just an excuse that is being used by some people”.
He highlighted Section 11 of the Registration of Elector’s Act which at Chapter 203 provides for the Chief Registering Officer to “cause to be prepared and published not later than the 30 of September in every year, a preliminary register of electors for each polling district of persons who are entitled to vote at any election and it sets out there the responsibility of the Chief Registering Officer, it also goes on to set out the people who cannot be there, who cannot be registered in the category that I have already referred to, dead, out of Dominica for periods in excess of five years and so forth,” he explained.
“I would strongly argue that particular parties are disadvantaged because there are people on the list who should not be there is really a smoke screen, is really a bogus argument and you should not allow yourselves to be lead astray by it,” Mr Peter concluded.
The Introduction of a Bill to Amend Registration of Electors Act 2017 is one of eight bills scheduled to go through Second and Third Readings when the Third Meeting of the Second Session of the Ninth Parliament under the Commonwealth of Dominica Constitution convenes at the House of Assembly on Tuesday 23 May 2017 from 10 am.