Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Governing Free National Movement (FNM) documents voter 'errors' in forensic scrutiny of the Elizabeth voter register

By CANDIA DAMES ~ Guardian News Editor ~

The errors on the Elizabeth voter register discovered by the Free National Movement during its forensic scrutiny are numerous, according to Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham.

In one instance, as documented by the party, the FNM discovered that one of the people registered to vote in the February 16 by-election moved out of the area years ago, and only returned two months ago after he and his wife separated.

He reportedly moved back in with his mother. The law requires voters to be ordinarily resident in a constituency for at least six months in order to vote.

The man's brother is also said to be registered, but he does not live in the constituency.

Another voter, the scrutiny shows, lives on the eastern side of Commonwealth Boulevard. While he lives in Elizabeth Estates, he is in the Yamacraw constituency.

These cases, according to senior FNM officials, can be replicated many times over, contaminating the voter register.

But Ingraham said his party and the government are determined to ensure the highly anticipated election is both free and fair.

"We are forensically going through the register and anyone who we have any questions about, we are seeking to contact them, to locate them, to obtain as much information as we can," he told The Nassau Guardian during an exclusive interview in his downtown office yesterday. "We've been doing this for a little while and we've been doing a very good job. I want to thank the people who are doing this for us. This is a political operation, so others may be shouting from the rooftop. We will be rejoicing on the 16th."

Ingraham said there is no higher duty for a prime minister to perform than to protect the country's democracy, to protect the sanctity and the ability of the people of The Bahamas to choose their government in a free and fair election and to have a register of voters that is as accurate as is humanly possible.

Since the 1992 election, the parliamentary commissioner has been required to make available to all candidates and political parties the register of voters for any constituency. The object of this is for parties and candidates to go through the register as it is being compiled to see whether they detect any errors or omissions in the register.

"I recall very vividly in 1992 I discovered that the register for one of my polling divisions, Grand Cay, had a number of names on it of persons I knew did not live there," Ingraham said.

"That was an innocent mistake, but the reality is that somebody had to check it to verify it...That is what we are doing with Elizabeth today.

"That is what we would have done for constituencies before now. We have discovered a number of errors and we are making them known to the registrar. We've discovered people who do not live in the constituency who show up on the register for the Elizabeth constituency. We've made that list available to the [parliamentary commissioner] and we are continuing the exercise, so that to the best of our ability we are able to identify and provide the [parliamentary commissioner] with any information we have about who is in the wrong polling division, who we have verified no longer live in the constituency or who've been able to show never did reside in the constituency, but who were included on the register of 2007."

Ingraham said the Free National Movement would likely make a statement on what it found during its scrutiny of the register.

He said that in 2007, former Prime Minister Perry Christie "fumbled and dropped" the ball, and failed to ensure the integrity of the general voter register.

"[Former Prime Minister the late Sir Lynden Pindling] had an election in 1992 with a clear register. I did so in 1997 and again in 2002. He (Christie) neglected to do his job," Ingraham charged.

"It is not possible for you to produce a register when you've changed the boundaries in a constituency at the time Mr. Christie did and expect to have a reasonably accurate register.

"No prime minister will call a general election without asking the parliamentary commissioner 'Is the register in order? Is it ready? What time do you need to get it in order?' so he could factor that in before he calls an election, but you must recall that Mr. Christie called an election on May 2, 2007.

"Mr. Bradley Roberts, the chairman of the PLP, was in Marsh Harbour, Abaco, swearing in Haitian nationals to become citizens of The Bahamas with them going to the commissioner's office on the same day, with them being registered to vote in the 2007 election because clearly he could not have known that Mr. Christie was going to dissolve the [Parliament and] those persons were unable to vote."

The Guardian asked Roberts yesterday to respond to this statement from the prime minister. Roberts said he recalled that at the time in question he was in Abaco on Ministry of Works business as he was minister at the time.

He said he recalls three people who needed to be sworn in — an American, a Haitian and a European — because their original swearing-in process had been "screwed up". He denied Ingraham's suggestion about what the motive for the swearing in of those nationals was.

Ingraham said yesterday, "Whatever is wrong with the register, Mr. Christie is responsible. I will never have an election called by me in The Bahamas where we're not satisfied that the register is in proper order. That's my duty to ensure that the people of The Bahamas' right to vote is never compromised as a result of negligence or carelessness or incompetence."

Ingraham noted that the Boundaries Commission reported on March 26, 2007 and the general election was called for May 2, 2007.

"It was not possible with the best of intentions to have an appropriate, accurate register in that short period of time," he said.

Parliamentary Commissioner Errol Bethel is scheduled to certify the Elizabeth register today, but candidates could still lodge any complaints about alleged voter fraud they may have.

February 05, 2010