A Legal Fight Begins Over Where Barbudans Will Vote in Upcoming Elections
Legal action is being taken to squash the Antigua and Barbuda Electoral Commission (ABEC) decision to move polling stations from Barbuda to Antigua for the March 21st elections, with leader of the Barbuda People’s Movement (BPM) Trevor Walker insisting that Barbudans should vote where they live.
An injunction was filed on Walker’s behalf by attorney-at-law Charlesworth Tabor yesterday.
The sister isle was devastated when the Category 5 Hurricane Maria hit last September, and residents had been evacuated to Antigua. However, most of them have returned home.
Last month, ABEC indicated that polling for the Barbuda constituency would be done in Antigua, based on “prevailing circumstances resulting from the hurricane which ravaged the island of Barbuda”, and it used Section 35 of the Representation of the People Act to support its decision. Then last week, before Prime Minister Gaston Browne announced the election date, ABEC chairman Nathaniel ‘Paddy’ James reiterated that position, saying that if voting centres were opened on the two islands it could open the door to fraud.
But Walker’s injunction seeks to prevent ABEC from going through with its plan, on the grounds that there are no special circumstances that prevent Barbudans from voting where they reside and that ABEC therefore has no basis in law to stop voting on the sister isle.
“There are no impediments at present that would prevent the Electoral Commission from conducting the ensuing general elections in Barbuda,” Walker said. “In fact, the nomination of candidates for the general election, which is a requirement of the law, will be conducted in Barbuda next week.”
He contends that ABEC’s interpretation of the legislation on which it based its decision was incorrect – a position Tabor outlined in a letter to James.
“Section 35 deals with matters that can be addressed in a constituency with respect to a polling district and polling places within a district in the said constituency. It does not address the issue of moving electors in one constituency to vote in another constituency, albeit they will be casting their vote for a representative of the House for the constituency from which they have been removed,” the attorney wrote.
Section 35 1 (c) of the Representation of the People Act states that “the polling place for any polling district shall be an area in that district, except where special circumstances make it desirable to designate an area wholly or partly outside the polling district, and shall be small enough to indicate to electors in different parts of the polling district how they will be able to reach the polling station at the polling place.”
Walker insists that Barbuda is not uninhabitable, and “it is important for the Electoral Commission to follow the law and conduct the poll within the constituency”.