If the government has its way, electronic voting will be used for the first time in the next general election, ideally eliminating the need to count votes by hand late into the night.
During a House of Assembly sitting Tuesday, legislators debated the Elections (Amendment) Act, 2019, which aims to modify the existing law in preparation for the upcoming general elections and incorporate recommendations made after the 2011 and 2015 elections.
Most of the bill’s 33 clauses seek to make a distinction between the procedures for a manual voting system and for an electronic voting system, Premier Dr. Orlando Smith said when he introduced the bill on Tuesday.
With the new electronic system, paper ballots will still be used, the premier said, though after voters cast their ballot in the ballot box the votes will be scanned and tabulated instead of counted by hand as in the past.
“This new system, Madam Speaker, is aimed at ensuring a more efficiently run general elections,” he said, adding that residents have been given the chance to see the system in action over the past year. “Let me give the public the assurance that the focus continues to be on ensuring accurate and fair election results.”
Dr. Smith said the supervisor of elections has assured him that education about the use of the new scanner and tabulator will continue leading up to this year’s general elections, which must be held by April 16.
Other clauses in the act both provide for more individuals to vote at advanced polls — including prisoners on remand and anyone travelling in advance of the election date — and provide for a code of conduct for political parties and candidates.
“I think we all agree, Madam Speaker, that [the latter clause] has become a much needed provision as the election and campaigns continue,” he said.
The House recessed on Tuesday evening, but it is scheduled to continue discussing the bill in committee this morning.
Debate over system
Many lawmakers agreed that the amendments — and an electronic voting system — have been a long time coming.
“This is something we should have done a long time ago, Madam Speaker,” Health and Social Development Minister Marlon Penn said. “I believe the territory is ready for it.”
Some opposition members, however, found fault with certain aspects of the act, including its timing.
Opposition member Andrew Fahie wondered why government has taken four years since the last election to make necessary changes.
“And now we’re on the eve of elections, to amend an election act, bring in a voting machine,” he said. “Yes, Madam Speaker, I am young and I love my technology and I believe in it, but the anxiety of all these changes on the eve of the election has created a hysteria in the territory to a lot of persons.”
Mr. Fahie said government should “double up” on public relations about the electronic voting system to make people feel more comfortable.
“Nobody’s against change,” he added. “This needed to be done from long. Whether it be the government or whoever who was supposed to do it, it was supposed to be done from a long time ago.”