To re-register or not to re-register

A call has been raised for re-registration of the electorate as the two main political parties continue to slug it out for political power just a little over a year since the March 12, 2009 General Elections.

What exactly would re-registration entail? Paddy James, deputy chairman of the Antigua & Barbuda Electoral Commission (ABREC), explained that this would mean a cessation of the continuous registration process that is now taking place and beginning from scratch, registering all eligible voters in the 17 constituencies, similar to the process that began in 2002 leading up to the elections of March 23, 2004.

James noted further that if the present laws were used, the governor general would then have to proclaim a certain period of time in which the first Voters’ List should be published. This would then be followed by continuous registration.

The proponents for re-registration argue that it would generate a relatively clean list, one that includes all persons who, by law, are entitled to be there. They further contend that it would give an accurate reflection of what the voting population of Antigua & Barbuda is presently.

Is a clean list desirable? Which party would benefit from a clean list? And, more importantly, is the existing list flawed? These are but three of the piercing questions that are being asked and must be carefully considered.

We’ve heard time and again that the aim for any political party worth its salt is to get itself returned to power for as long as possible, therefore a decision of this magnitude will take some guts. There is absolutely no doubt that it would be one of the toughest decisions for the UPP administration.

The important point one would rebut here is whether the decision would advance democracy in Antigua & Barbuda and not whether it would be advantageous to either party.

Meanwhile, those who oppose re-registration are just as vociferous in their arguments.

Speaking from experience, James argues that getting people out there to re-register would be a humungous challenge. The numbers only increased as the time for election approached and this only occurred when the parties got into campaign mode and mobilised their people to register. He anticipates a similar thing happening.

United Progressive Party member Senator Colin Derrick, while suggesting that many of the electorate might see re-registration as an inconvenience, nevertheless views it as an educational one, since it would serve to increase persons’ awareness and knowledge of the voting process as well as remind them of the registration process.

However, both James and Derrick are on the same page where cost is concerned, both listing it as the strongest argument against re-registration.

James says the cost would be a negative one bearing in mind the present economic quagmire in which we find ourselves. It is not a capital expense he argued and “for you to find that money within one or two fiscal periods at this stage when we need money for hospital services, when we need money for expanding our efforts for employment and so forth … I don’t think it is useful at this stage.”

James’ colleague, Sir Gerald Watt, chairman of ABEC estimates the figure for such a process somewhere between $30 and $40 million even while others claim it would be much less than that.

Nonetheless, despite the inconvenience and cost, Derrick strongly favours re-registration. Not only that, he stresses that it should be confined only to citizens of Antigua & Barbuda and the one-month stipulation for residency in a constituency should be replaced by a 12-month qualification period. This would facilitate the verification and identification of persons living in said constituencies.

Reinforcing his point he said, “As it happens now, you only have to be there for a month and then once you register you can just disappear and nobody sees you again until maybe election day and that in itself allows for padding.”

On the other hand, James stands in the opposite corner against the re-registration process. As far as he is concerned, there is no advantage to a re-registration process “except that it would satisfy the egos of some persons out there; the few persons in society who are creating these doubts in the minds of people.”

However, one former commissioner Bishop Ewin Dorsett proclaimed that it would be foolish for the electorate to return to the polls on the present list.

This leaves us to question why some people are adamantly against re-registration.

Some say that it is too costly to embark on a re-registration exercise. Our question is, can we afford not to?