Protecting our election process
Published: Jan 09, 2017
We hold sacred in The Bahamas our democratic system. Each individual who is a Bahamian citizen 18 years of age or older, who is not imprisoned or legally declared mentally incapacitated, who satisfies the residency requirements, is entitled to vote if he or she so chooses. In order to vote, though, you must register.
This election cycle there have been disturbing stories that threaten the legitimacy of our upcoming election. The Parliamentary Registration Department has been enforcing a dress code for registration even though it is not empowered to do so by law. If the officers of that department do not think you are dressed appropriately they turn you away. In the case of women, they want shoulders covered. They police breasts. If they think too much is showing they deny Bahamians their democratic right.
National Security Minister Dr. Bernard Nottage, since hearing of the conduct of the department, encouraged Bahamians to register to vote, particularly women. He pointed out to The Nassau Guardian that there is no law that bans women from registering to vote because of what they are wearing.
“Some of the things that I’ve heard on the radio are surprising to me,” said Nottage, who has ministerial responsibility for elections.
“There are no such regulations with respect to the way you dress. Of course like anybody else, one would wish to dress appropriately but we do not know the circumstances from which people come.
“Some people are doing well and some are not doing so well, and so no hindrance should be put in the way of people registering to vote by the parliamentary registrar or anyone else.”
Minister of Transport Glenys Hanna-Martin too expressed concern regarding the discrimination that is occurring.
“It is outrageous that women are being turned away from exercising a fundamental right reportedly because of the way they are dressed. This is beyond unacceptable and cannot be tolerated,” she said in a Facebook post.
“The parliamentary commissioner must immediately direct his staff to respect the fundamental rights of women as they seek to exercise the franchise: A right that women heroically and courageously fought for and will not be easing up on any time soon.”
If the Parliamentary Registration Department does not change course and it continues to deny Bahamians the right to register, this systematic abuse will undermine the legitimacy of our election. People who are repeatedly frustrated will give up on registering. A voter list minus Bahamians who were improperly denied the right to register would not represent the true will of the people.
We again call on the government, particularly the prime minister and attorney general, to use all powers of compulsion to make the Parliamentary Registration Department follow the law and register all Bahamians who are entitled to vote.
For all our problems as a nation, we have had free and fair elections. The actions of the department at this election jeopardize the vote to come.