Election observers from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, pictured above, called attention to the need for campaign finance regulations in their final report. (File photo: ALVA SOLOMON)

The April general election was “peaceful and well-run,” but campaign finance regulations and other previously recommended reforms are still needed, according to a report issued this month by a team of election observers from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.

The 14 recommendations in the report also called for clarifying belongership policies, modernising election laws, and fostering greater diversity in politics by encouraging women to participate, among other measures.

Team’s visit

At the invitation of Governor John Rankin, the eight-member team arrived in the Virgin Islands a week before the April 24 election to provide the independent oversight that has been provided by the CPA for every Virgin Islands election since 2011.

The team’s preliminary report came immediately after the election tion, and the July 3 report is its final one. Fatoumatta Njai, a member of the National Assembly of the Gambia, said in an accompanying press release that the election was well administered.

“Polling staff were well-trained, diligent and helpful, and efforts to promote voting by elderly voters and persons with disabilities were commendable,” she added.

Election observers watched every stage of the 2023 general elections, including the reading of the results. Their final report was released this month. (File photo: DANA KAMPA)

Mr. Rankin said last week that he welcomed the report and trusts the government will work to address its recommendations, especially on campaign finance.

He also again commended the supervisor of elections and her team for a “well-run” election.

“It is my hope that this new administration would prioritise electoral reform early in its tenure,” Mr. Rankin said. “I remain resolute in strengthening our electoral processes to support free and fair elections, and bolstering the public’s trust in the office to be able to carry out its mandate to do so impartially and transparently.”

Campaign finance

Election observers have been taking issue with the lack of transparency surrounding campaign financing in the VI for more than a decade.

The 2015 observer team, for instance, made similar complaints as part of suggestions designed to “level the playing field between candidates and parties.”

This month’s report noted that such concerns are ongoing “despite the extension of several international instruments which contain obligations of fairness and transparency in the conduct of elections.”

“In the absence of any campaign finance regulations, sources of campaign funding are not made public, which is at odds with the internationally encouraged electoral practice,” the report stated.

Last week, the governor echoed these concerns, saying, “I hope that it will now be progressed as a matter of priority well before the next general election.”

In an interview with the Beacon shortly before the election, Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley — who was appointed premier in June 2022 — said he supports campaign finance reform, but it had not been implemented yet because such changes must be made at least a year before a general election.

Premier selection

The observers’ report also recounted issues that voters raised for consideration in future elections.

One centred around the process for selecting the premier, who under the current system is typically the leader of the majority-winning party.

“Some argued that it would be in greater public interest for the premier and Cabinet ministers to be elected from the ‘at large’ constituency, rather than one of the districts,” the report states. “These discussions are welcome, given that the choice of an electoral system necessarily balances various considerations, such as the accountability of elected representatives and the development of political parties.”

Any changes to the status quo should be made well ahead of the next election and should be supported by a majority of stakeholders, the report recommended.


The team also recommended various election law reforms and suggested preparing a consolidated version of the Elections Act for easier review.

Additionally, they recommended enhancing access to information on legislative affairs and election-related processes such as ballot procedures.

And in light of the last-minute pre-election recall of the HOA to regularise the status of 688 people who had applied for belongership or residency status, the observers recommended clarifying policies on belongership.

They also said the Elections Act should be updated to reflect the adoption of new voting technology.

“An introduction of a set date for regular elections would facilitate greater certainty and allow more time for electoral preparations,” the report added.

Other recommendations included better protecting the voting rights of prisoners; improving the electronic voter database; prohibiting party agents from being witnesses to voting by those assisted by presiding officers; adopting the 2008 United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; and considering temporary special measures to strengthen women’s participation in elections.


The report also noted that no specific measures were made to accommodate Spanish-speaking voters, with materials only available in English.

Additionally, the observers drew attention to the fact there is no freedom-of-information legislation in the VI.

Another recommendation was to undertake a census — an exercise that was slated to begin last month but was postponed.

The report also described various problems during the lead-up to election day.

“Personal attacks on social media were mentioned to the mission by some of the candidates, and several complaints on such attacks were made to the police,” the report stated, adding, “Rumours of vote-buying surfaced during the campaign, but no substantiated allegations were made to the mission and no complaints were lodged with the police.”

Observers emphasised that media houses should clearly label any content sponsored by candidates.

Observers’ praise

The report included plenty of praise as well.

Observers, for instance, noted the organisation of debates that included party leaders.

“The election campaign was vibrant, with social media playing an important role for the distribution of campaign messages as well as critical views,” the report adds.

It also noted that Advance Polling Day proceeded smoothly and that “no substantial concerns about the accuracy of the voter registry were expressed to the mission.”

Observers commended the appropriate use of electronic pollbooks and ballot scanners, which they said greatly improved efficiency even though some voters needed assistance.

The teams also reported on the diversity of candidates, 17 of whom — about 40 percent — were women.

However, only three women were elected.

“None of the candidates running for election identified themselves as belonging to the LGBTQI+ community, nor was there a representative that publicly identified themselves to be a part of this community in the previous parliament,” the report added.

Observers also confirmed that no political party members or independent candidates made complaints about how the election was conducted, and there were no challenges to the results.