ABEC responds to concerns about voting rights for Covid-infected people

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By Makeida Antonio

[email protected]

The Antigua and Barbuda Electoral Commission (ABEC) has confirmed that there is currently nothing to prevent persons infected with Covid-19 from casting their ballot in general elections based on the country’s existing laws.

Concerns about this issue arose from this week’s snap election in Barbados, where thousands of people who were isolating due to testing positive for the virus were prohibited from voting. Queries surrounding what would happen in elections in the twin island nation came from at least one local political party.

However, ABEC Chairman, Nathaniel ‘Paddy’ James, said the law currently permits all eligible voters to cast their ballots on election day.

“We cannot at this juncture determine what will happen at the election in terms of the voting exercise as it relates to Covid-19.

“What I can say with efficient certainty is that the law as it stands is that every eligible elector who is registered on a voting list in the 17 constituencies … is entitled to vote at any general election for a return of a member to the House of Representatives,” James told Observer in an interview.

He added that the proceedings familiar to the electorate will remain unless Parliament sees fit to make any changes to the law in light of the current public health circumstances.

“After a writ of election is given by the Governor General and preparations are being made, these are the exercises currently if there are no changes made to law. As far as the Electoral Commission is concerned, every eligible elector will be entitled to vote,” James said.

While many may consider James’ comments to be welcomed news, he also advised that the government has the authority to change the law as it sees fit, saying that the current laws do not give the Electoral Commission the authority to stop anyone from voting in an election in the event that they have contracted Covid-19.

“The Constitution of Antigua and Barbuda, Section 40, provides that the Parliament of Antigua and Barbuda shall make laws for the conduct of elections in Antigua and Barbuda.

“So, if … the government of the day believes that it is required to do what is going on in Barbados, they have to go and enact legislation in the Parliament of Antigua and Barbuda which they have the power to do in those circumstances,” he explained.

Due to the uncertainty surrounding the ongoing pandemic, James suggested that preparations for the upcoming election will depend on the pronouncements made and when the date is revealed.

“I would not recommend to the Electoral Commission to put anything in place when we don’t know what would happen at the ensuing elections and when elections will be called.

“We have up to next year for that purpose but we are mindful of it so we trod along mindful of those circumstances and maybe have to be pragmatic in the process as it relates to national security and the health and wellbeing of the people but Parliament will make that decision at some point.

“I have no intention to even think about that right now because I don’t even know when elections will be called,” James added.

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