The election observers from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association British Islands and Mediterranean Region released a preliminary report at a press conference on Feb. 27. The final published report calls for a raft of reforms to be enacted at least a year before the next election. (Photo: GENEVIEVE GLATSKY)

International observers who monitored the Feb. 25 general election have published their final report, calling for a raft of reforms to be enacted at least one year prior to the next election.

They reiterated their assessment in a Feb. 27 preliminary report that overall the 2019 election was “vibrant and competitive” and “reflected the will of the voters.”

But the team — which was sent by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association British Islands and Mediterranean Region — also pushed for measures including campaign finance reform, a review of suffrage rights, changes to the voter and candidate registration processes, fixed-date elections, a public education campaign, and published price lists for campaign advertisements prior to the start of the campaigns, among others.

Additionally, the observers repeated the claim from their preliminary report that the VI’s suffrage rights system is overly restrictive and contravenes the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, given the lengthy process to acquire belonger status and the 2010 census estimate that some 61 percent of the VI population was born outside of the territory.

As part of that argument, the observers touched on the United Kingdom Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee report, which recommended a review of the belonger system, and they stated that the UK government’s subsequent position to leave immigration matters to the overseas territories “does not condone the current inequalities or revoke the need to review who can vote or stand in elections.”

The observers went on to praise government’s proposed amendments to the Immigration and Passport Act and its “Clear Path to Regularisation” policy — which has since been put on
hold — but called for further “robust” action.

“Inaction may risk alienating a substantial part of the population, some of whom feel disenfranchised and excluded from the political process in light of restrictive regulations and resistance to reform,” the report continued.

Voter increase

The observers also touched on an increase in registered voters in districts Five and Eight, which they found raised suspicions that voters were registering outside their place of residence to influence the outcome of the election.

Though the team found no instances of “gerrymandering,” it called for more robust verification of voter registration to increase transparency.

The observers also recommended regular voter registration information campaigns throughout the year, a census and clearer criteria for the documents required for voters to change their voting district.

The report followed up on other concerns in the preliminary report, including that “the presence of up to four people inside a polling booth with a voter undermines the secrecy of the vote for those most vulnerable” and called for reform to address this issue.

It also touched on the allegation that results of advanced polling were disseminated on Whatsapp, and found that one of those published reports was accurate — an issue it said undermined the integrity of the electoral process.

To prevent such incidents in the future, the team suggested ending the practice of printing advance polling results and instead relying only on the memory drive, or positioning candidates and agents where there is a lower risk that they will see the results.

Campaign finance

The report also repeated many recommendations made in the preliminary report and in reports from past elections, including the introduction of campaign finance legislation, fixed-term parliaments, a more effective code of conduct, a consolidated legal text, and the creation of an election commission.