The case for an independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission

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LETTER TO THE EDITOR

Dear Editor,

The celebration of legal week by the Eugene Dupuch Law School and the Marco City election court challenge together have elevated the question of electoral reform into the national debate and consciousness. Editor, with your permission I would like to focus on the need for a truly independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission.

At present, I am not convinced that the present Boundaries Commission ensures fairness as all of the members of the Commission are appointed by either the Prime Minister (3 members) or the Leader of the Opposition (2 members). Under this arrangement, it is obvious that all of the members of the Commission could be under the influence or work in the interest of groups that have a vested interest in the election. However, no such privilege is given to parties not represented in the House of Assembly or parties that have representation in the Assembly, but which are not either the governing party or the official opposition.

I believe that the Electoral and Boundaries Commission should be composed of a senior member of the Judiciary, the Clerk of the House of Assembly and three distinguished persons who are well respected as fair by the community.  I perceive this Commission, in addition to determining the constituency boundaries, having oversight of the entire voting process including the registration of voters, hearing and ruling on allegations of electoral fraud resulting from the nomination and voting process.  In cases where the Electoral and Boundaries Commission cannot adequately rule on any election matter that is in dispute, then the Election Court should then serve as that body to hear any appeals emanating from the Commission.

This Commission should be vested with the authority to:
Make recommendations to Parliament for changes in the constituency boundaries whenever the census returns or any other credible population or household survey indicate that a boundaries review is required.
Appoint an independent Parliamentary Registrar, answerable to the new Commission, not under the aegis of a Minister of the government.

Create an independent Elections Office and Registry.

Remove a judge from the Commission.

In order to enhance our democracy, the Commission should introduce the following measures:
Establish a permanent Register of Voters so that the voter registration process is not the massive, time consuming and expensive exercise that it presently is.  Eligible voters would only be required to register once. The Parliamentary Registration Department, in conjunction with the Registrar’s Department would simply need to update the register periodically.

Broaden the voting franchise by permitting citizens who work or attend school overseas to vote by absentee ballot enabling hundreds, if not thousands of people to exercise on of their basic rights as guaranteed by the Constitution.

Bahamian civil society must collectively and continuously demonstrate the will to improve our public institutions to develop and deepen our democracy and to restate our commitment to and belief in the prevalence of the rule of law.

Yours etc.,
Elcott Coleby
Nassau, Bahamas