STATEMENT ON NEVIS ELECTION CASE by the St. Kitts & Nevis Bar Association

But even after they go there will remain serious problems with the system of registration of voters.

The problems were only partly addressed in 2007. They should now be addressed completely if not there will be more confusion, more disputes, more petitions and the reputation of our country will sink even lower.

The three most pressing issues to my mind are:

1) The provisions and process for determining residence of the locally resident voter

2) The provisions and process to determine the registration of overseas voters and

3) The dispute resolution process.

I am strongly of the view that proportional representation is the fairest way to accommodate the overseas vote. However I recognize that this will require constitutional change. That will be left for future generations who, with the benefit of hindsight, will appreciate that a system designed to satisfy party politics, one way or the other, is a recipe for confusion.

With that reservation I will offer some solutions which can be introduced by legislation without constitutional amendment.

1) A voter, whether confirmed in the 2008 process or registered during or after, should, if challenged, be required to prove his residence. The current system that the challenger must prove a negative i.e. that the voter does not reside where he says, is a totally unreasonable requirement. There are many simple ways in which a voter can prove his residence including utility bills, bank records, passport, driver’s licence, social security and other public records. If he has none of these then he can bring witnesses. A form giving details of residence should be produced to be completed by the voter and sworn on oath so that any lie will expose the voter to a perjury charge. Likewise any person giving evidence in support of a voter should do so on oath and be subject to cross examination.

2) Every person applying anew to be registered should complete the same form and produce the same type of evidence.

3) The spurious concept of domicile as a basis for registration as an overseas voter should be abolished. Overseas voters should be required to complete a detailed questionnaire to show a real and direct connection with the constituency such as place of birth or the last place of residence in the Federation for more than 12 months as verifiable by documentary proof.

In addition such residence should be supported by an affidavit of a person resident in the Federation and on the voters list for the constituency. The applicant should also swear an affidavit as to the truth of his answers to the questionnaire. Citizens who have never resided in the Federation should not be allowed to vote.

4) There should be clear and fair provisions for service on a voter of notice of a challenge to his registration. Personal service should be the primary means of service on residents. Service on existing overseas voters should be by publishing a list at the electoral office and also by advertisement in two local newspapers with ample time to respond.

Every new overseas voter should be required to give a local address for service on him of a challenge against his registration. Any overseas voter whose registration is challenged should have to appear or to provide documentary evidence or witnesses to support his entitlement to registration in the constituency. He should be protected by having the right to recover his expenses and other financial loss should a challenge fail. That is not an unreasonable imposition for the right to an overseas vote. It will deter abuse of the system by citizens resident overseas.

5) All challenges should be heard not by a registration officer but by the Magistrate’s Court with a right of appeal on points of law to a Judge.

The Court should sit in a specified period of at least one day in each month to hear challenges and should have power to subpoena records including records of utility companies and social security and other public records. The Court should also have power to award costs against an unsuccessful challenger as a deterrent to frivolous challenges.

What I have suggested is not rocket science. Similar provisions apply in many Commonwealth and other countries where the constituency system applies. In fact in some countries the Electoral Office itself carries out regular investigations on the ground as to the residence of voters. We are not ready for that.

While we are at it we should address the issue of dual nationality and change the current law which produces the absolutely absurd position that a person born here and holding dual nationality is debarred from seeking election but his or her son or daughter born abroad can be qualified.

What is required is a mature and genuine will to establish an ordered system to replace the free for all with which we are presently burdened.

While the issue of voter registration remains open the Court of Appeal has once and for all determined the issue of access to government owned media and laid out the law that political parties and candidates for election have a constitutional right of equal access to Government owned media. That principle was agreed by all political parties in the 1994 Four Seasons Accord but successive Governments have reneged on that commitment.

Now the right is established in permanent and enforceable form which is not reliant on the will of any leader. And if anyone thinks that this right is a token right which can be flouted with impunity I remind him that the Court has power to award damages and costs for breach of a fundamental right and that liability may attach not only to the government for breach of the right but to individuals such as directors and management of government owned media who participate in the breach.

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