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August 12, 2014
Legally removing persons from voters’ list very complex issue

The Office of the Supervisor of Elections cannot remove a person from the list of registered voters simply because that person does not have one of the new identification (ID) cards.

The most recent voters’ list, released to political parties here last week, gives the number of eligible registered voters in St Vincent and the Grenadines as 105,919 persons.{{more}}

This figure is clearly bloated, as according to the most recent population and housing census, the resident/household population in St Vincent and the Grenadines in 2012 stood at 109,188.

Supervisor of Elections Sylvia Findlay, in an interview with SEARCHLIGHT yesterday, said she has been advised that although 35 per cent or 37,295 of the persons whose names appear on the most recent list do not have one of the ID cards which have been issued since 2009, nothing in the Representation of the People Act gives her the authority to remove their names from the list.

Findlay said last year, she had met with representatives of the political parties and had undertaken to separate the people who are present and living here, or who had come to the country in the given five-year period, to get them to apply for the new identification cards. After a certain period, those who did not show up to register would be assumed to be living outside the country and would be removed from the list.

Yesterday, Findlay told SEARCHLIGHT that while the two political parties in Parliament had no objection to that suggestion when she broached it last year, she subsequently sought legal advice, which indicated that to proceed in such a manner may not be correct.

The Representation of the People Act 1982 makes no reference to voters being prohibited from voting or being removed from the voters’ list if the card they hold is expired, or if they do not have the most recent ID card, or even if they have no ID card at all.

According to the Act, there are only four situations in which a voter’s name can be removed from the list: firstly, if the person has died; if an objection to his registration has been allowed; if he has been absent from SVG for more than five years; or if he has been disqualified under any law for registration or for exercising his rights as a voter.

“So, I realized that yes, we were going on the assumption that the law allows us to, but it does not.

“However, I have made other suggestions to the political parties, as well as to the Legal Affairs department, in terms of how we could look at reducing the list. It really is not as clear-cut and as straightforward as persons would assume,” Findlay said.

The Supervisor of Elections said despite this, she is still trying to see how she could legally remove names from the list.

“So, I am trying within the powers vested in me to see how I could adjust.”

Findlay is adamant that the majority of the “excess” names on the list are not deceased persons, as some have suggested, but persons who live overseas.

She said working with the Registry, which has computerized its registry of births and deaths, her office has been able to remove some deceased persons whom they were not previously certain about.

Findlay said that cleaning up the list would, however, be far simpler if Parliament were to amend the legislation.

“The easier path is for the Parliament to make a decision, amend the legislation or however they wish to do it… just put it in the law what we want,” she said.

The Supervisor of Elections also suggested that another path would be to conduct an enumeration of voters, although experience has shown that this costly exercise is usually not very effective.

Findlay explained that an enumeration of voters is similar to a census, where visits are made to every household to determine the number of eligible voters residing there. The names of those persons who have left the country for more than five years or who have died are removed from the list.

“In June 2005, when the last enumeration was done, of a voters’ list of over 97,000, fewer than 4,000 names were removed.”

She said that householders very rarely inform enumerators that their relatives are overseas.

“It has been proven that it does not work…. People are playing it safe, they do not know when their relatives will show up again,” she said.

Here again, Findlay said by removing a person’s name based on information provided by a relative, the Office of the Supervisor of Elections could be putting themselves at risk of being challenged legally.

“Even if a relative says someone has been overseas for more than five years, where is the proof? If that is not so, that person may be able to mount a legal challenge.

“It is a very complex issue,” Findlay said.