The law and sanitizing the electors list
As early as December 19, 2009, the issue of Voter ID Cards and cleaning up of the electors list were listed as two important campaign issues for the 2014/2015 general elections. Followers of political developments in Dominica will recall that a mere one day after the last general elections, long before a concessionary speech accepting the results of the just concluded (December 18th 2009) elections the elections war cry was for a dedicated voters ID card and "cleansing" as it were, of the electoral list. On that fateful Saturday installment of the "Between You and Me" radio programme, the dye was cast, the battle lines were drawn. There will be no elections until a re-registration of voters programme has been undertaken and voter ID cards issued.
Much has happened since. Interestingly, we have had two bi-elections without Voter ID cards and used the same list of electors. Absolutely no complaint. It is now June 2014 and judging from recent pronouncements, the issue will not go away any time, at least for some.
Our society is governed by the principles of law and order. Like every other disciplined country, we have established certain institutions at great expense to the tax payer to mitigate or arbitrate for us when disputes arise. In the absence of that important social balance, chaos and anarchy would reign supreme. Our society would disintegrate into one where the law of the jungle would prevail – survival of the fittest.
In an election petition matter in Nevis, Case No HCVAP 2012/003 between Joseph Parry and Mark Brantley; Case No HCVAP 2012/004 between Leroy Benjamin, Bernadette Sylvester and Mark Brantley and Case No HCVAP 2012/005 Between Hensley Daniel and Mark Brantley, the OECS Supreme Court ruled and established the principles in law that must be adhered to when it comes to cleaning up, as it were - the electors list. It is arguable that there is a need to review the law and or constitution. But let us accept that the present case law which was established after the Nevis elections petition, unless changed, is what that must drive and inform our very action when it comes to "cleansing the electors list". What is so difficult about that? Why do certain practicing attorneys sing from a different hymn sheet on this matter when they know that the outcome of that case in Nevis has established the law?
The references to existing case law in other jurisdictions/citations and arguments are compelling. My understanding is that once you have been legally registered to vote your name will remain on the voters list irrespective. It is a sacrosanct and blessed privilege that many have fought and indeed lost their life to achieve. It ought not to be subjected to the whims and fancies of anyone or power much more a political party.
That court decision also provides the basis and procedures for removing the names of the any duly registered voter. The name of a duly registered voter can be removed from the list only upon death of the voter. An authentic death certificate will suffice. No question asked.
The other scenario where the name of a voter may be removed is not as simple as when a voter dies. Consider the case of Mr. Franko Charles. He has been a registered voter since 1979 and has exercised his franchise to vote at every general election since 1980. In time Mr. Charles would leave Dominica for North America in search of the proverbial "greener pastures". Up to the time of the great financial meltdown, he was doing well and visited Dominica regularly. In January 2009 he visited for carnival and upon his return received his "pink slip" due to the hard economic times. For five years now there is doubt as to whether he has ever returned, not even for his dear Grand Mother's funeral or Kweyole Festival or carnival? Rumor has it that he was sighted in Colihaut at the ordination of Fr. Brakes. Who is keeping tabs on his travels to and from Dominica? Yes, there is the ED Card. But who is checking the ED cards for this specific information? Who has the evidence to prove that he has been away for five consecutive years and have never, ever returned?
So since the judgment in 2013, those who clamor for cleansing the voters list seemingly has reverted to appealing to the conscience of individual electors – Frank Charles. If you know you have been away for five consecutive years without coming back to Dominica at any time, then don' come and vote.
But in the case of Franko Charles there is a vigorous campaign to remove him from the electoral list because unlike "is it the same Ronald Charles", heaven knows he will never, ever vote in a particular way and because he is coming to vote in a constituency where his one vote matters, he has to be stopped.
Those who would like the name Franko Charles to be removed from the electoral list must first make a complaint to the electoral office. In that complaint they must state their grounds for objecting and be prepared to provide evidence in support of their objection. The electoral office must then make contact with Franko Charles, advising him of the nature of the complaint, who is making the complaint and finally to afford him the opportunity to state his case why he should not be removed from the list. A hearing is summoned and the parties are given the opportunity to state their case. Due process they call it. Not at the whims and fancy or the smooth talk of any person or authority.
I somehow get the distinct impression that those who are today crying out for "cleansing" the voters list are unconcerned about due process. But Franko Charles according to the case law has to be told why anybody, group or authority would want his name removed and he has to be given the opportunity to answer.
I am reminded about an attempt that was made a few short years ago to "cleanse the voters list" in La Plaine. That turned out to be a scandalous affair. A gentleman whose name was included among those to be removed as being dead, was alive and well walking the streets of La Plaine. Can you imagine that those who prepared the list are from La Plaine and living in La Plaine? What was the explanation? It was an unfortunate typographical error of sorts. But didn't somebody check the list for accuracy before submitting it to the Electoral Office?
I am sure the issue of "cleansing up" the voters list will remain a hotly debated matter in the upcoming election. Whatever is the basis of our action to clean or not to clean the list has to be informed by the Court of Appeal Judgment in the Nevis Election Petition matter. I urge all Dominicans to get familiar with the judgment. Every indication is that the campaign to remove certain electors from selected constituencies will continue.
Ronald F. Charles