Monday, February 8, 2010

Bain and Grants Town MP Dr. Bernard Nottage (PLP): By-election could end up before Election Court

By Keva Lightbourne ~ Guardian Senior Reporter ~

The Progressive Liberal Party believes that the Elizabeth by-election may end up before the Election Court if persons who registered in the constituency illegally are allowed to vote on February 16.

This point was made by Bain and Grants Town MP Dr. Bernard Nottage during a news conference held at the PLP's Farrington Road headquarters yesterday. Nottage further claimed that the party has uncovered many instances where people registered in the area but should not have been allowed to do so.

"Many persons who are on the register should not be on the register, because they have not lived in the constituency for as many as two years. You are permitted to continue to vote in a constituency if you have moved out for less than six months. But if you have moved out for more than six months you are no longer legally entitled to vote," said Nottage, who is also the PLP's campaign coordinator for the Elizabeth by-election.

"Similarly, to transfer into a constituency and be able to vote you must be living there for three months after you have moved into the constituency. There are persons on the register who have been there for less than three months but who have registered," he alleged. "The job of the parliamentary commissioner is to ferret those persons out and to remove them from the register or not to transfer them into the constituency."

Nottage said while some attempts to clean up the register were made, he does not believe they were entirely successful.

Meanwhile, at a Free National Movement (FNM) news conference Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham said the party would not be fighting any cases in Election Court, as elections are won at the polls.

On Friday Parliamentary Commissioner Errol Bethel confirmed that he had certified the voter register for the Elizabeth constituency. The voter register was certified amid ongoing claims of voter fraud and irregularities.

Ingraham said the FNM was conducting a forensic examination of the register and had uncovered a number of errors.

Bethel said 4,943 voters are on the register.

No changes can be made to the register, but candidates could still lodge challenges they may have on election day.

According to Nottage if there are extensive challenges on that day, the situation will become very "confrontational," and he hoped that this could be avoided.

"We ought not be going into an election where we expect to have to challenge 200 or 300 or 400 persons. One or two now and then is to be expected for a variety of reasons. I am not saying that there are 200 or 300, but I am saying that there are many persons in the hundreds who cannot be found in the constituency or who have not been found in the constituency despite intensive work so far," he explained.

And while Nottage could not give a figure for the number of persons who are on the register and should not be, he noted that the parliamentary register had somewhere in the region of 420-430 new voters.

"And when we looked at who those new voters were, we found when we compared it with the 2007 register that there may be as many as an additional 80. We have not completed that review yet," said Nottage.

"About half of the parliamentary commissioner's list were people who we legitimately feel should be there because of their age. They just became of full age since the last election so we know that they are okay. But there were many people, some born as early as [the] 1930s who are there as new voters who we believe may not legally be there," he added.

But, Nottage admitted that this point could not yet be proven, adding that in due course it would be determined.

Nottage reported that the increase in the number of registered voters in the Elizabeth constituency is unprecedented. He said a review of the increase between elections held in the Elizabeth constituency every five years shows a rise between 1997 and 2002 of 9.53 percent and between 2002 and 2007 of 2.66 percent. Yet, Nottage indicated that the largest increase of 16.64 percent occurred between 2007 and 2010 - a period of two years and nine months.

"It is our belief that such an increase is highly unlikely, and that there are on the Elizabeth register many persons who do not have the right to be there. Some have moved out, some may have died, some may have registered without being eligible," Nottage said.

Additionally, the Bain and Grants Town MP disclosed that he had received reports from Elizabeth residents who claimed that people purporting to be working with the Parliamentary Registrar Department had been visiting their homes, or making phone calls to them and making erroneous observations, in some cases allegedly altering information on voters cards.

Nottage alleged that some people have reported that the polling division on their voter's card had been changed, resulting in members of the same household being placed in two different polling divisions.

"It is clear that such random and ad hoc relocation of voters would complicate the voter identification process, potentially create mass confusion and frustration on election day, and discourage the voter from exercising his or her democratic right," Nottage said.

For example, he alleged that one voter indicated to the PLP that if his children could not vote where he votes then no one would vote.

"Because they were all in polling division number 5 until somebody comes along and puts some of them in five and some of them in 11. So we have to seek to persuade them that notwithstanding what has happened, that they should all go and vote in different polling divisions," Nottage reported.

The party called on the Minister of National Security Tommy Turnquest, who is responsible for the register, to immediately investigate the situation and "provide a full and clear explanation as to why the transfers were done, [and] what corrective actions are being taken to remedy this unfortunate situation."

In the meantime, Nottage is advising Elizabeth voters to remain calm even though on the face of it, it appears that their democratic rights are being frustrated.

The opposition MP then slammed the government for not seeking to rectify the register following the general Election Court challenges, which highlighted the fact that its integrity was compromised.

"Surely then a new government coming to power would seek immediately to correct those defects. Even though Prime Minister Ingraham is quick to point the finger at former Prime Minister (Perry) Christie, we say that it was his fault that they have not made any concrete steps within the parliamentary commissioner's office as it relates to its structure and function to correct this situation," Nottage stressed.

February 08, 2010