Reserve decision on whether people with COVID can vote

The Electoral and Boundaries Commission (EBC) was on Saturday advised  not to make any definitive statements on whether people who tested positive for COVID-19 and were in isolation would be allowed to vote in the January 19 General Election.

Board member and attorney at law Hal Gollop QC issued the note of caution during a media conference that was streamed live. He said the laws of Barbados did not contemplate anything other than in-person voting and any decision should maintain the integrity of the electoral process.

Gollop received support from fellow attorneys and board members Leslie Haynes QC, who is also the chairman and Ramon Alleyne, who agreed a balance must be struck between the public good during the COVID-19 pandemic and people’s individual rights.

The discussion arose after head of the COVID Monitoring Unit, Ronald Chapman, initially said neither those in isolation at Harrison Point or any other government-approved facility, nor those in home isolation would be allowed to vote. In responding to a question from the media, he said the latter would be advised to stay at home since they remained highly infectious.

Head of the COVID Monitoring Unit, Ronald Chapman. (GP)

“We wouldn’t want those persons to go out to a polling station where we know that we have all cadres of Barbadians. . .  We still want to be safe and we are asking persons who know they are feeling ill to please stay at home, and if you have a confirmed diagnosis for COVID and you are in isolation, that is what isolation is, you stay put,” Chapman said.

He further explained the isolation facilities were an extension of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and people who were ill in hospital did not vote, nor was any special procedure put in place for them to do so.

“If you know you are ill, if you know you are infectious, please do not come out and share that infection with others,” he pleaded.

Gollop was invited to respond to a question about whether the legislation allowed for anything other than in-person voting. He said the casting of a vote was “a very personal thing” except for instances where someone was allowed to do so on behalf of an incapacitated person.

“Our legislation does not contemplate what you call less than in-person voting. It is very straightforward in that regard, in my view,” he pointed out.

Chief Electoral Officer Angela Taylor said the EBC was always looking at ways to improve and with the advent of COVID-19, “there will be a time in the short future when we do sit down and discuss this matter of voting other than in-person voting and see where we can take that”.

In response, Gollop said the aim was to prohibit fraud and any “process that would permit people to vote for others on a wider scale than is presently allowable is opening the door to fraud, especially in a technological age where fraud is such a ready, ready problem with all kinds of things”.

He cautioned against creating “any false sense of hope that something like that would be implemented by any administration in the future in Barbados given the overriding objective of avoiding fraud in the electoral process”.

Haynes said this was a discussion for the EBC Board at a later date. Gollop added this decision went beyond Chapman who was being asked to speak on something that required a strong legal opinion. He said any definitive statement should be reserved until the legal advisor gave an opinion.

Chapman also stated if someone turned up at a polling station and had symptoms, they would not be turned away. That person would be allowed to vote and the place would be sanitised to reduce risk.

Taylor said there would be 541 polling stations across Barbados and the EBC had hired extra personnel to take temperatures, sanitise people’s hands and monitor spacing of those waiting in line. (SAT)

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