As the public will be aware, the Government has over a significant period of time been making considerable efforts to introduce the use of photo identification cards for the purpose of voting, and updating the Register of Electors (popularly referred to as the Voter’s List). Updating the List requires removal of all names of persons who are dead; have been overseas for more than 5 years; are disqualified from voting or are otherwise not entitled to be on the List, are removed.
The public will also be aware that the Government has not received the cooperation and support of the opposition parties in its efforts to bring about these reforms. Instead, the Government has at every turn been impeded, obstructed, and has even met with violence and the threat of increased violence, in its efforts to get Parliament to pass the necessary amendments to the electoral laws so that the two main reforms, (i) mandatory use of photo identification cards for the purpose of voting; and (ii) updating of the Voters’ List, can be implemented.
As reported some months ago, in the light of this continued obstruction, and in the hope that Dominica’s electoral reform effort could benefit from their collective expertise and technical support, the Government invited the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the Commonwealth (COMSEC) and the Organization of American States (OAS) to send a Joint Mission of electoral experts to Dominica to meet and discuss the issues with the Government, the main political parties and other stakeholders.
The Joint Special Mission was in Dominica from the 6th to 9th August 2019, and over two days (the 7th and 8th) met and discussed the electoral reform issues with the various stakeholders. The Joint Mission has now submitted its Report entitled “Report on the Joint CARICOM, Commonwealth, OAS Special Mission to Dominica”. The Report sets out the Joint Mission’s observations, conclusions and recommendations.
Before, commenting on the Report, I wish on behalf of the Government to publicly express sincere thanks to CARICOM, the Commonwealth, the OAS and the members of the Joint Mission for their efforts to assist and support Dominica in our electoral reform effort. We are appreciative.
I would like to also record that copies of the Report will be forwarded to His Excellency the President, the Electoral Commission, Leaders of the political parties and various stakeholders with whom the Joint Special Mission met whilst in Dominica. The Report will also be made available to the wider public on the Government website www.dominica.gov.dm.
Turning now to the Report. Having considered the Report the Government is pleased to note that the Joint Special Mission, like the Government, is of the view that the existing electoral legislation must be amended to enable the introduction of photo ID cards.
The Government is also pleased to note that the Joint Mission has acknowledged that the Prime Minister has the constitutional right to call elections at any time of his choosing. As regards other recommendations and aspects of the Report however, the Government notes and accepts the important best practice principles that,
- “Electoral reform needs to be carefully managed to ensure that it fulfils its intended and stated purpose, without confusing electors and with minimal disruption to electoral administration”, and that
- "An unsuccessful attempt at reform could have serious consequences.”
In that vein, regrettably the Government is unable to accept aspects of the recommendations contained in the Report, in particular in relation to the recommended house-to-house re-verification exercise. The Government’s reasons are detailed fully in its written Response to the Joint Mission.
In summary, the Government is of the view that the recommendations, in particular in relation to re-verification, are unworkable and, if implemented, will cause confusion and disruption, contrary to best practice, and, importantly, will not result in the required updating of the Register (a.k.a. “cleansing of the List”).
Specifically, the proposed re-verification will not result in the mandatory use of photo ID cards for the purpose of voting (i.e. every voter being issued with and required to use a photo ID card to vote), nor will the Register of Electors (a.k.a the Voter’s List) be properly updated or “cleansed” (i.e. removal from the List of the names of all persons not entitled to be on the List because they are dead, have been overseas for more than 5 years, etc. per Section 7 of the Registration of Electors Act, Ch. 2:03).
Additionally, the recommendation that a house-to-house re-verification exercise should be conducted across the country is not supported by Dominica’s laws and even if it was, it could not properly update or “cleanse” the Voters’ List because it proposes that persons whose names are on the List but were not met with during the re-verification exercise would still be allowed to remain on the List and to vote.
Dominica will essentially be in exactly the same place in respect to the Voters’ List as we are now. Accordingly, the Report will have the unacceptable impact of causing the State to incur significant increased financial, human and other resources costs for no real reform or discernible improvement in our electoral process.
What should be clear to all is that, contrary to what is said by some, electoral reform is a complex and in many respects challenging endeavor, which requires the cooperation, political maturity, broad involvement and goodwill of as wide as possible a cross section of the society.
With that in mind, the Government will continue to be mindful of the very important best practice principle that "an unsuccessful attempt at reform could have serious consequences.”
The Government is of the firm view that in all the circumstances, the draft amendment Bills and the confirmation process proposed in those Bills, provide the best means of securing credible, workable and lawful electoral reform which will deliver mandatory issuance and use of photo identification cards for voting and updating (a.k.a. “cleansing”) the Voters’ List.
In conclusion, the Government will continue to seek to engage the opposition parties, other stakeholders, the joint Mission and other regional and international partners, in its efforts to successfully implement the needed electoral reforms.
HON. LEVI A. PETER