Jonel Powell Questions St.Kitts-Nevis Electoral Office’s Refusal to Allow Two Commonwealth Citizens to Register to Vote

Managing Partner of the law firm of Grant, Powell & Co. Jonel Powell in two letters dated January 31st 2013 addressed to the Chairman of the Electoral Commission, Attorney Hesketh Benjamin, questioned the interpretation of the electoral laws of the Federation by the Electoral Office Manager Mr. Oliver Knight, and his subsequent instructions to the personnel there at the Electoral Office in regard to what constitutes the twelve month residency requirement for Commonwealth citizens to register to vote in St. Kitts and Nevis. 

The letters were written on behalf of a Jamaican national, who has been living with her Kittitian husband and working in St. Kitts subject to a work permit since 2009, and a Guyanese national living and similarly working subject to a work permit since 2008, respectively. Both individuals, Commonwealth nationals, claim to have been denied their constitutional right to register and to ultimately vote to elect a Representative for their respective constituencies as provided under Section 29 (2) of the Constitution of St. Christopher and Nevis.

The first letter details that, “In or about March of 2012 the (Jamaican national) attempted to exercise her Constitutional right under Section 29 (2) of the Constitution of St. Christopher and Nevis to be registered as a voter to elect a Representative for the constituency in which she lives. She was denied such opportunity and right by the staff of the Electoral Office and then ultimately by the Manager of the Electoral Office Mr. Oliver Knight. The basis upon which she was denied was that she had travelled outside of the Federation within the twelve months immediately preceding the date on which she attempted to register to vote and had therefore broken the required twelve month residency requirement of the National Assembly Elections Act,”

Powell went on to submit that, “…this is an improper interpretation of the residency requirement of the National Assembly Elections Act. We further submit that it is ludicrous to assert that one is barred from travelling outside of the Federation in order to maintain residency status. We are of the opinion that this is a breach of her fundamental and Constitutional right to be registered as a voter in St. Kitts and Nevis,” 

The second letter was similarly worded on behalf of the Guyanese national and resident of McKnight.

Powell requested that the Electoral Commission make a determination on the issue, stating, “…we humbly write to you and request that a determination be made on this issue so as to prevent any further breach of (their) Constitutional rights and ultimately the rights of any other person who may be ignorant of such a breach.” 

Both letters ended by indicating that both individuals reserve their rights to be heard on this matter before a court of law, and thanked the Electoral Commission in advance for its cooperation.

Approximately one year ago Powell led a national debate on the issue of whether Commonwealth citizens attending local offshore universities were qualified to vote. Although Powell asserted that they did not meet the residency requirements to register to vote, and appealed the adverse decision of a registration officer at an objection hearing, the appeal was defeated in the High Court on a technicality before the substantive matter could be heard.

Jonel Powell is a prospective candidate for the People’s Action Movement in Constituency 2, Central Basseterre.

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