EDITORIAL : ACCESSING THE CONTINUOUS VOTER REGISTRATION SYSTEM
Anguilla’s electoral process is currently under scrutiny and has been actively so since late 2015 when the Constitutional and Electoral Reform Committee, led by Mr. Don Mitchell CBE QC, was appointed. While we await the outcome of the work of the Committee, we must remain concerned about the operations of our existing electoral processes. One such core process is that of continuous voter registration, which was implemented in 2009 and which operated seamlessly up until 2016.
Section 12 of the Elections Act provides that:
“After the enumeration year  –
(a) there shall be continuous registration of all persons qualified to be registered as voters under this Act; and
(b) when a person is qualified or will be qualified on the next qualifying date to be registered as a voter in an Electoral District, that person may apply to the Electoral Registration Officer to be registered as a voter in that Electoral District in accordance with this Act and the regulations.”
According to section 1 (1) of the Elections Act “qualifying date”, in relation to determining the qualification of any person to be registered as a voter, means—
(a) in the case of the enumeration year, 31 December 2008; and
(b) in any other year, the last day of March, June, September and December”
The process of continuous voter registration is to be facilitated by a Central Electoral Office mandated by section 5 of the Elections Act.
Although the law provides for continuous voter registration, currently this facility is not available to aspiring registrants. An obscure reference was made to this situation in a Press Release issued by the Governor’s Office in October 2016 and published in The Anguillian of Friday, 21 October 2016 in relation to the ongoing electoral reform exercise. Her Excellency the Governor, Ms. Christina Scott, commented as follows – “In addition, due to other issues impacting operations at the office from which voter registration has previously been conducted, I am working with the Supervisor of Elections to implement an interim solution enabling the continuous registration of voters to a high standard. It is better that any measures be done properly and thoughtfully, rather than quickly, and I would ask the public’s forbearance as arrangements are put in place.”
Improvements are always welcome and should always be vigorously pursued but not without regard for the exercise of existing legal rights. It appears that the continuous voter registration process has fallen into abeyance. For approximately four months eligible persons have been unable to register as voters. Will the Anguillian populace, and more particularly persons eligible to be registered, be offered a full explanation for what it is hoped is only a hiatus in the process? Will they be offered a firm timeline by which they will be afforded their full rights under the Elections Act? The silence from persons with responsibility for the electoral process, elected officials and persons aspiring to membership in the House of Assembly, is worrying. An act or omission, which affects or has the potential to affect a voter’s rights, should not be taken lightly.
While some concerns have been raised about the integrity of the current electoral registration system, the answer cannot be to suspend the legitimate operations of a lawfully constituted office, while implementing what has been described as an interim solution enabling the continuous registration of voters to a high standard. The public’s forbearance might be more legitimately solicited in relation to a hiatus to facilitate a permanent solution, particularly if the relevant officials identified and communicated, to stakeholders, a short and definite timeline for the implementation of such a permanent solution.
The man on the street is quite correctly not allowed to ignore the laws of the land with impunity. We expect no less of those charged with managing the system which facilitates one of the most sacred rights known to man – the right to vote. Will this situation be rectified in the near future? As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Anguilla Revolution our awareness of any diminishing of our rights must be heightened as well as our determination to secure those rights.