As the political season looms, leaders should work quickly to implement much-needed reforms that will help ensure fair and transparent elections in 2015.
For years, the Elections Office has pushed for a raft of measures that would better align the Virgin Islands’ election process with international standards. Many of them require legislative action that should have come long ago.
The office’s report on the 2011 election unfortunately has yet to be tabled in the House of Assembly, but we suspect it repeats several outstanding recommendations from the 2007 report.
For example, the office has been working toward automating the VI’s antiquated method of counting votes by hand. We hope the new system will be in place before next year’s election, following an extensive education campaign designed to ensure that all voters understand the changes.
The office also hopes to start issuing voter identification cards, another goal that seems sound. In the past, voters have been permitted to cast a ballot without producing identification of any kind — a system perhaps better suited to the VI of 30 years ago, when the population was much smaller and the faces more familiar.
The ID card system is unlikely to be fully in place by next year’s election, but we hope that significant progress can be made toward implementation. We would caution, however, that no requirement associated with obtaining a card should be so onerous as to risk disenfranchising anyone. To our thinking, the cards should be free and easy to obtain.
The Elections Office also has recommended that a campaign code of conduct be established for candidates. We agree: This step will make for campaigns that are more civil and productive.
Campaign finance reform is also needed. At a minimum, candidates should be required to disclose sources of campaign financing and expenditures. Though such rules are not as commonplace in the Caribbean as in other parts of the world, United Kingdom overseas territories including the Turks and Caicos and the Cayman islands recently have implemented significant reforms in this area. The VI should follow suit.
Another sound recommendation from the Elections Office would require all political parties to register. This step, too, is in keeping with international standards of best practice.
The Elections Act was amended shortly before the 2011 election, in large part to bring it in line with the 2007 Constitution. Unfortunately, many of the abovementioned reforms were omitted, even though most of them had been recommended years before.
Shortly after coming to power, the current government pledged in the 2011 Speech from the Throne to further amend the act. The promise, however, was dropped in subsequent Throne speeches. Legislators should bring it back in short order.
A well-regulated elections process is absolutely essential to the health of any democracy. And the Virgin Islands has fallen behind.