Under our law no one is entitled to vote in elections to Parliament unless his or her name, with address and occupation, appears in the Register of Electors or the Supplementary Register of Electors compiled for the particular election. Once so registered, you may vote only in the polling station located in the polling district where your name appears on its list of voters. Presiding Officers and their Poll Clerks are an exception to this rule. Section 30(1) allows them to vote at the polling station where they are at work on election day. Further, you may cast your ballot for one candidate only. It is also the law that, although "house-to-house" may be done until voting is completed, all campaigning in public must be brought to an end before midnight of the day preceding election day.

It does not take much to enter an election race. Firstly, you must not be disqualified, for example, by being a Minister of religion, or a bankrupt or someone certified to be insane or of unsound mind. Further, you must not be under sentence of either death or imprisonment for a term in excess of twelve months. Neither must you be our President or acting in that office. And, most importantly, you must not be someone who by your own act lawfully obtained and used a foreign passport. That is to say, you must be a citizen of Dominica only. Once these initial obstacles are overcome, the road ahead is clear and all that is required are the following: You must be a citizen of Dominica, twenty-one or more years old. You must also have resided in Dominica for twelve months before the date of your nomination to contest, or was resident here at that date. And you must be able to speak and, except if you are blind, read English well enough to engage in debates in Parliament.

To withdraw from the race is even easier. All you need to do is give written notice to that effect to the Returning Officer. But two pre-conditions must be met. One is that such notice must be given "not less than seven clear days" before election day. The other is that, on such withdrawal there must remain at least one duly nominated candidate for the constituency. Of course, if only one duly nominated candidate remains, that candidate will "forthwith be declared to have been elected." Needless to say, on the death of one of two duly nominated candidates, the same result would follow.

Voting is to take place at each and every polling station between 7 o'clock in the morning and 5 o'clock in the afternoon of the same day. This is done under the supervision of the Presiding Officer and a Poll Clerk. At 7 o'clock, the Presiding Officer and Poll Clerk at every polling station are to open the ballot box "in the presence of the candidates, their agents and as much of the electors as are present". This is done to ensure that there are no papers, including ballot papers, mistakenly or intentionally placed inside. The box is then closed, placed on a table "in full view of all present", and kept there until the close of the poll. The Presiding Officer is responsible for keeping order at a polling station, and does so largely by regulating the number of voters to be admitted into the polling station "at a time", and by excluding all other persons without authority to be present. A candidate contesting the particular constituency, his or her agent and the constables on duty have such authority to be inside the polling station.

The presence of police officers is intended to assist the Presiding Officer in taking the poll in an orderly manner. Section 33(3) invests the Presiding Officer with authority to have any person "removed from the polling station", if that person "persists, after being warned, in disobeying the directions of the Presiding Officer". On their part, the presence of a candidate and his or her agent is to see to it that the poll is free and fair. Section 33(2) seeks to facilitate this by providing that "the agents shall be posted in such a place that they can see each person who presents himself as an elector, and hear his name as given by him, but so that they cannot see how any voter votes." Moreover, the framers of the legislation had confidence in the capacity of agents to carry out their role independently. Hence, the provision at Section 38(1) that "no candidate and his agent shall be in the same polling station at the same time for more than five consecutive minutes."

A number of aspects of the voting process may be less known. Among them is that, upon a request by a candidate or his agent, a Presiding Officer is obligated to put two questions to an elector: one, whether the elector is the same person as the person whose name appears on the list of electors in question; and, two, whether he or she had already voted in this election either at the said polling station or elsewhere. If an elector refuses to answer one or the other question, the Presiding Officer must refuse to give the elector a ballot paper. An answer to either question which is found to be false carries in a magistrate's court a penalty of imprisonment for six months.

To further verify the identity of a person whose name, residence and occupation appear on a list of electors, a Presiding Officer or Poll Clerk, or a candidate's agent may request that the person be first sworn. And if that elector refuses to do so, whether by oath or by affirmation, he or she will not, by virtue of Sections 11 and 77(1) of the Act, "receive a ballot paper or be admitted to vote or be again admitted to the polling station".

The Act also makes provision for the casting of votes in special cases. Such a case is where an elector applies for a ballot, claiming to be a particular person, and finds out that someone else has already voted as that person. So long as the elector takes the officially prescribed oath of identity and is able to otherwise satisfy the Presiding Officer that he or she is, in fact, the person whose name appears on the voters' list, then, that elector is entitled to receive a ballot and to vote.

A physically disabled elector is another special case. Upon request to the Presiding Officer, an elector physically challenged other than by blindness, may ask the Presiding Officer to mark his ballot "in the manner directed by the elector", and place the ballot paper in the ballot box. This must be done "in the presence of the poll clerk and of the sworn agents of the candidates or any of them but of no other person." In the alternative, the elector may apply to the Presiding Officer to have someone else assist him or her in the marking of the ballot paper. There is one condition. It is that the companion must first declare that he or she has not assisted "more than one" such elector to vote at the elections. In either case, the elector must first swear that he or she is "incapable of voting without assistance by reason of physical incapacity". Importantly, a person is qualified to assist an elector physically handicapped other than by blindness, if that person is entitled to vote as an elector at the said election or is the father, mother, brother, sister, husband, wife, son or daughter of the elector seeking assistance, and is eighteen years of age or more.

Where an elector is blind, two choices are available. Upon the elector swearing that he or she is "incapable of voting without assistance by reason of inability to see", the Presiding Officer may proceed to mark the ballot paper in the same manner in which it may be done in respect of an otherwise physically challenged elector. Or, at the blind elector's request, the marking of the ballot paper is done by a friend. But that friend must satisfy two requirements. One is that the friend must be an elector in the same polling district as that of the blind person. The other is that the friend has not, at that election, already acted as such for another blind elector. Before marking the ballot paper, the friend must swear that he has not acted as such in the election and, further, that he will keep secret the name of the candidate for whom the ballot of the blind elector was marked.

At the end of polling, the ballots cast are counted. This is a preliminary count. Then, this and the election materials are delivered to the constituency's Returning Officer for the final count.

Copyright © William Para Rivière, November 2013