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HomeLettersAgitating for meaningful voter registration reform in Grenada - Part one

Agitating for meaningful voter registration reform in Grenada – Part one

How ‘essential and necessary’ is the registration of voters and how ‘meticulous and stringent’ must be the measures for and the maintenance of a voter registration system, in a ‘thriving democracy’? What are the principles which must inform a ‘sound and secure’ voter registration system, and what circumstances would influence or would necessitate for reforming the system? Contextually meant and applied; the registration of voters facilitates the democratic ‘right and franchise’ of an eligible person in the ‘choice and determination’ for the political governance and trajectory of the nation and to this end, it also serves for an ‘orderly and credible’ system in the enjoyment of this Exercise. Who are the ‘real and principal’ stakeholders and custodians of a voter registration system, and what are the reasonable ‘expectations and acceptances’ of the system and the available recourse(s) for a defective system?

Has Electoral Justice been served in Grenada since obtaining Political Independence on February 07, 1974, with respect to the status of its voter registration system? What are the outstanding inadequacies and controversies about the system, and to what extent is the powers-that-be seeking to address genuinely any grievances? The interesting case prevails whereby there is no ‘indication of willingness and commitment’ by Grenada’s June 23, 2022 ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) for arresting the public grumblings of dissatisfaction about the voter registration system, even after it has been in the political wilderness for over two decades and for which it blames largely on the past administration of the New National Party (NNP) with the rigging of elections and dubious processes at the elections office.  

As a particular reference; the NDC when in opposition expresses in its June 2018 article “NDC Heartbeat: Electoral reform before another referendum”, about the ‘much needed reform to the election law by claiming that there are many deficiencies in the law and moreover that the operations of the electoral office has being allowing the powers-that-be to manipulate the electoral system to its advantage’.  The NDC also had sought to boost its stance and declarations about Grenada’s electoral system, by pointing to the recommendations of the Elections Observer Teams from CARICOM and the Organization of American States (OAS) for pertinent changes, and by echoing that “The voter registration process is a critical element to the successful outcome of the electoral process and therefore any perception real or imagined that this process is flawed affects public confidence and trust in the overall integrity of the electoral process”. It would be of goodwill for the public to know the extent to which Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell is convinced that the scenario at the elections office has drastically improved since the May 10, 2022 open letter to the Supervisor of Elections, lamenting about ‘the management of the electoral process … it will not be possible to hold free and fair elections …  public trust is undermined’.

The Constitution of Grenada directs for the establishment of a voter registration system and for attending to other pertinent electoral matters of the nation, under the ‘executive authority’ of the Governor-General and within a legislative framework prescribed by the Parliament. Section 32 of the Constitution specifies the qualifications associated with the voter registration system for the ‘election of members of the House of Representatives’, whilst Section 35 further declares for the function and designation of a Supervisor of Elections “to exercise general supervision over the registration of voters … and over the conduct of such elections”.  The constitutional provisions for electoral matters are unfolded through the Representation of the People Act (RPA) as the typical election law, for ‘meticulous and stringent’ observances; however, the ‘capacity and tenacity’ toward achieving this Goal is untenable.

Critical for the ‘soundness and credibility’ of Grenada’s voter registration system is the proper division and delineation of electoral boundaries; however, there has not been any ‘comprehensive review and reporting’ on this concern for over a considerable time to date. According to sections 54, 55 and 56 of the Constitution, Grenada shall be divided into such number of constituencies having such boundaries as may be provided for by an Order made by the Governor-General upon the submission of a report by a Constituency Boundaries Commission which is mandated to review the number and boundaries of the constituencies into which Grenada is divided, with the leading consideration being that ‘all constituencies shall contain as nearly equal numbers of inhabitants as appears to be reasonably practicable’.   It must be an ‘appalling and embarrassing’ situation indeed that, on approaching five decades and contrary to constitutional stipulations, there is no ‘clear evidence’ of the existence and operations of a Constituency Boundaries Commission giving effect to having the Prime Minister laying before the House of Representatives for its approval the draft of an Order by the Governor-General, whether with or without modifications, to the recommendations contained in the report of the Constituency Boundaries Commission, and that draft Order may make provision for any matters which appear to the Prime Minister to be incidental to or consequential upon the other provisions of the draft.  

The recent past four years have witnessed the Supervisor of Elections (SoE) signaling to the population about the need for the elections office, Parliamentary Elections Office (PEO), to secure a new computerised voter registration system, and this has degenerated to confusions and misgivings which affected preparations surrounding the 23 June 2022 general elections.  It should be clear that despite whatever gross limitations of an ‘old and outdated’ electronic registration mechanism, any imperative efforts to replace it must not be ‘in isolation and/or in ignorance’ of the other related registration issues.

Even in the absence of the SoE meeting the constitutional obligation ‘with good faith’, for about a decade or more, of submitting a report on the exercise of his/her functions to the Minister for the time being responsible for matters relating to the election of members of the House of Representatives and for that Minister to lay it before the House, the SoE continues with a ‘non-conducive approach’ for consultations about the upgrading of the electronic registration mechanism. In further consideration of the recommendations of the OAS Observer teams over the years for “Reconvening the Constituency Boundaries Commission at the earliest opportunity” after acknowledging for example, that the boundary descriptions associated with each constituency are often vague and incomplete and with some not contiguous, and that six constituencies contained twice as many electors as the other nine (2022 Report), then the SoE / PEO must be advised strongly that the computerised voter registration system should not be secured without also addressing the electoral boundaries in particular. With its mantra and pledge to promote monarchy democracy, the call is now made for the Monarchist League to have representation to the King of Grenada / Governor-General for the institutionalizing of the Constituency Boundaries Commission; recall article “How Far Must Grenada Monarchist League Go About Oath Of Allegiance?”  

Along with the need for the re-defining of the electoral boundaries, there is the need for the re-enumerating of the population, as an ‘unavoidable and worthwhile’ aspect in any move for the installation of a new computerised voter registration system.  The re-definition of the boundaries and the re-enumeration of the population provide the fundamental platforms for realizing ‘equity and efficacy’ in governance representation and for reducing political ‘unbalances and disadvantages’.  It must be a serious indictment on the electoral system of Grenada to have the OAS Mission confirming in its June 24, 2022 “Preliminary Report of the OAS Electoral Observation Mission for the General Elections of June 23, 2022 in Grenada” that ‘the procedures followed by the PEO to register Commonwealth citizens include provisions that are not always specified in the Representation of People Act and which do not always allow Registration Officers to accurately verify the eligibility of applicants to be registered’.  As highlighted in the RPA, the “enumeration process” is about the listing of persons in a polling division of a constituency who are qualified to be registered as electors in that polling division and to vote.  That is; the enumeration of persons under Section 26D is necessary to give substance to the ‘verification and integrity’ of the Consolidated List of Electors, especially on the issues of domicile and residency of voters.  

The issue of ‘domicile and residency’ speaks for example, about “a Commonwealth citizen, who has resided in Grenada for a period of at least twelve months immediately before the date of his registration” (RPA, section 6 on Entitlement to Registration and section 10 on The Right to Remain Registered). Those provisions do not support but condemn the practice of individuals in the Diaspora using festive occasions such as Independence and Carnival to rush to be registered; this, an ‘illegal and unpatriotic’ practice has been alleged to be encouraged and sponsored by political parties. Apart from the need to interrogate judiciously the Citizenship Act (CAP. 54) and to have ‘sovereign interpretations’ on Part VII on Citizenship of the Constitution, the conditions on ‘domicile and residency’ should assist with the contentious case facing Grenada about the ‘rationale and qualification’ for having individuals who have acquired citizenship to be able to vote at general elections.  What is the percentage of registered Citizenship By Investment individuals to the total growth of Grenada’s population; noting that during the first quarter of 2024, a total of 1,273 citizens registered to vote with the consolidated list of 91,145 voters as reported.

With the mounting litany of concerns and irregularities about Grenada’s voting process, who must be held accountable, as the challenge is now to check the List of Electors for illegal and inaccurate entries?

By J K Roberts, Sound Public Policies Advocate

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