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CONSULTATION ON RECOMMENDATIONS OF OBSERVER’S ON TURKS AND CAICOS ISLANDS (TCI) GENERAL ELECTIONS 20


Lister Dudley Lewis, Supervisor of Elections

The Supervisor of Elections Lister Dudley Lewis is inviting Political Parties and the general public to participate in providing feedback on the recommendations made on the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) general elections held on February 19th, 2021, by Elections Observer Missions.


Background


The legal framework in the Turks and Caicos Islands regulates the electoral process and provides a basis for the conduct of general elections in compliance with international legal obligations. The civil and political rights pertaining to elections include the right to vote and to stand for election are protected as well as the freedom of assembly, association, and expression.


The TCI elections are primarily governed by the Constitution adopted in 2011, the elections ordinance 2020, Electoral District Boundaries Ordinance 2012 and Political Activities Ordinance 2012.


On February 19th, 2021, general elections were held in the Turks and Caicos Islands and Observer Missions were invited by H.E. the Governor to observe the conduct of elections.


The Elections were observed by the following Missions, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association British Islands and Mediterranean Region (CPA BIMR) virtually due to the Covid-19 pandemic, International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFIS) and CARICOM (in-person).


The joint Observer Missions Observed the elections virtually and physically and made recommendations that will enhance the future conduct of TCI elections to bring it fully into line with international obligations and standards for a more efficient and effective TCI democratic electoral process.


The 2021 general elections were assessed against relevant international treaties, obligations and commitments and TCI domestic laws and the recommendations made are based on detailed desk study of the TCI legal framework for elections, past election results, interviews with stakeholders including polling staff, Candidates, Political Parties and Voters.


The recommendations made by the Observer teams after the TCI 2021 general elections should be seen as suggestions to be considered to improve future TCI general elections.


Feedback can be submitted by email or hard copy document to Lister Dudley Lewis, Supervisor of Elections, Elections Department Pond Street Grand Turk or email dllewis@gov.tc


The general public is encouraged to participate and provide feedback.

The consultation will commence April 19th, 2023, and close May 19th, 2023.


CARICOM ELECTION OBSERVER MISSION (CEOM)


The CEOM was unable to ascertain the origin of the occurrence to unilaterally extend the closure of Poll to accommodate the time lost at the late commencement of the Poll.


The Elections Ordinance does not address this matter specifically. There is a need for this issue to be resolved. It may be recalled that a similar matter reached the Courts in another Caribbean jurisdiction.

The idea of outsourcing the training of Polling Day Staff to one individual should be reconsidered. Also, the methodologies associated with Polling Day Staff must be discussed and documented in detailed. The EDBC, on this occasion, was well served by a person who is experienced in electoral management.

Every effort should be made to ensure that the commencement of voting begins on time. The commencement of any aspect of Polling Day Activities should not be delayed by unpunctual or non-arrival of Party Agents. Roving Party Agents as well as Party’s Command Centre should be informed immediately about the absence of the respective Party Agent, especially at the opening and closure of Poll.

It was often found that Party Agents did not fully understand that they are part and parcel of the entire polling day exercise. Too often Party Agents had to be enthused to participate at crucial moments of the process.


Perhaps the Political Parties should change their Agents after 6 hours. Always there should be a few fresh Agents at the count. All Party Agents should be present at the count. However, any absence should not delay the count.

The count (tally) was often slow and laborious. The CEOM feels that one way to hasten the counting process would be to ensure that the separation of ballots should take place simultaneously during the count.

There must be one uniform way of staining the finger. Similarly, the electorate must know which finger is to be stained and how and where it will be stained. The Pamphlet/Notice “VOTING PROCEDURE” does not carry this information.

Training of election day staff is of paramount importance. It is a continuous exercise. On Election Day there were a few incidents where polling staff, especially later in the day, were committing errors that they would not usually do. One or two training exercises may not be enough. “Training”, further training, repeat training, refresher training courses usually are very rewarding on election day. The Security Services need also to be schooled, especially relative to the presence of Election Observers and the latter’s access to Polling Stations.

One of the NOTICES tells the voter to “make sure you have 2 of these 5 acceptable forms of photo identification available when you vote. Why 2 ?. The Presiding Officer would have the name of the voter on the list. The person (voter) is standing right in front of the Presiding Officer. The voter has his picture on any one of the 5 acceptable ID’s.

In spite of probable future accusations of gerrymandering the Constitution, Electoral District Boundary Commission (EDBC) might wish to re-visit the concept of arranging the electoral boundaries so as to create a greater numerical equity among the Constituencies, therefore fortifying the democratic process.

The CEOM received reports that voters were being misinformed, not only via the social media, but, it seems, even by the established media houses. Other Caribbean Countries have established a Media Code of Conduct and even a Media Monitoring Unit managed by the Elections Management body.


CARICOM could be of assistance in sharing these experiences with the TCI in the future. Consideration should be given to early voting for the disciplined force.

INTERNATIONAL FOUNDATION FOR ELECTORAL SYSTEMS (IFES)


Additional dialogue and public engagement are required to determine the best way to ensure inclusion in the electoral process in the TCI and, as a result, representative governance. A range of options could be considered, including electoral system and structural governance changes, and/or voter eligibility reforms.


The current voter franchise regime does not align with international best practices in voter eligibility or international conventions to which the United Kingdom is a party. The eligibility to vote should be increased to include a greater proportion of the population, based upon domestic, regional and international best practices, laws, treaties and obligations.


To not do so undermines the overall integrity and legitimacy of the electoral process, and democratic will of the people may not be reflected in their elected leaders.

A formal review of the current and future needs of the Elections Office should be conducted within the next year to allow for successful implementation of any recommended changes.


This review should not only assess permanent and temporary staffing levels and budgets, but also technology upgrades and improvements to voter education outreach efforts – particularly in the event of any changes to voter enfranchisement as recommended.


In addition, any need to increase inclusion and accessibility should also be identified with an eye towards maximizing voter enfranchisement. A review of necessary training should take place and be implemented in time for the next election.


Finally, to improve accessibility, the Elections Office could conduct an audit of TCI’s polling stations and make recommendations for selection of new sites if necessary and/or improve sites accessibility in time for the next election.

In the observed election, voter registration closed on 1 March 2020, almost a full year before the election. Not only did this resulted in the disenfranchisement of first-time voters who turned 18 in the months leading up to the election, but also of other new voters who, despite being eligible, had not previously registered or whose eligibility status had change in the months leading up to the election.


The elections office should embrace a rolling voter registration system with a standardized deadline set prior to the next election, such as the date of the election is called plus one or two weeks or the date of Candidate nominations. A rolling voter registration system would maximize voter registration while also encouraging first-time voters.

A single option of voting is unnecessarily restrictive and reduces voter enfranchisement. In addition, it is counter to international best practices aimed at increasing inclusion and accessibility for a broader segment of society, particularly voters with disabilities, older Citizens, incarcerated prisoners, and others who cannot be physically present to vote on Election Day.


Therefore, TCI should consider authorizing advance voting and/or absentee voting well in advance of the next election. Advance voting could take place the day before the actual election day and could be limited to law enforcement, firefighters and/or military. Absentee voting could be considered via signed requests.


by confirmed voters to vote via a post- and/or hand-delivered absentee ballot. This would include persons on remand and prisoners serving of less than 12 months. The option used around the world to widen the franchise to include voters who cannot cast a ballot in person on Elections Day all having their own limitations in the provision of a secret and secure vote. Based upon lessons learned in the


region and from around the world, IFES does not recommend proxy voting, in which one voter is legally authorized to cast a ballot for another, for TCI, particularly because it can be used by heads of household to influence how family members in their household vote, ultimately taking away the right to vote for the candidate or party of their choice.


Although much progress has been made in the Caribbean and TCI, and woman have held the top jobs in TCI, it is important to not get complacent about the fact that woman still face cultural and institutional barriers when running for office.


As social media use becomes more prolific, woman may be reluctant to run for elected positions because opponents and the media will often focus on a woman’s personal life rather than focusing on her politics and proposed policies.


In the TCI, as across the globe, efforts should be made to continue educating political leaders and citizens that woman, who are the majority of votes in TCI, should be represented in the formal political space and all Candidates should be treated equally with focus on politics and policies, not personal life.

Adjust the appearance and layout of physical ballots to assist voters in making their Candidate choice. This could include adding political party colors of photographs to the ballot to make the choice more easily identifiable by the voters, particularly voters with low literacy and those who are blind or have low vision. In addition, a limited number of ballots could be printed based upon targeted need in the languages spoken in the TCI, including English and, where applicable, Spanish, French and Creole, and tactile ballot guide could be developed for identified populations so voters with visual disabilities can vote unaided and in secret.

IFES recommends that more resources be provided to the Integrity Commission (IC) and the Supervisor of Elections (SOC) to proactively investigate issues around the abuse or misuse of state resources during elections, and different types of treating, or offering of material rewards in exchange for voting for a specific candidate or political party, to avoid a culture of impunity.


In addition, while the Elections Ordinance includes rules around political advertising, these have not been extended to the social media, and generally all political activities on social media platforms is on a personal basis as opposed to using paid advertisements and political pages.


Hence, regulation of this content, as well as potential disinformation and hate speech, is challenging. As the influence and spread of social media continue to grow, consideration could be given to certain types of social media regulations, especially during electoral periods.

Given the size of the TCI’s population, it is inevitable that candidates, party officials and election officials will have close ties. A conflict-of-interest policy should be developed that is specific to any election requiring senior electoral officials, returning officers and other officials to formally declare any familial and/or financial ties to any candidate or political party on the ballot.


Upon declaration, officials could be required to abstain from any significant election-related government action and/or decision related to their specific conflict of interest. A formal conflict of interest policy would enhance transparency.

Individual polling stations should be segmented to equalize the number of voters on each list. Currently, voters are segmented according to the first letter of their last name, which results in unequal voting line lengths, due to several common last names in TCI.


Apparently, this line segmentation is due to the ballot boxes having already been preprinted. This fact should not discourage the election authorities from expenditures necessary to modify or replace the ballot boxes to balance the polling station lines, particularly given health concerns with long lines.

The Elections Ordinance mandates the introduction of voter identification cards for registered voters, but this provision, which has been in the law for several years, does not come into effect until the government issue a proclamation in the Gazette.


Until this provision comes into effect, TCI requires one form of official identification to vote. However, ahead of the 2021 elections, the Elections Office in its public education campaign encouraged voters to bring two pieces of identification. To prove both residency and the right to vote, eligible voters should only need one form of identification.


It is therefore recommended that all eligible voters be issued a voter registration card in advance of the election, or revert to requiring on form of official ID. An additional form of identification could be required in the event the voter loses their voter registration card. In addition, voters should first be confirmed as eligible to vote at the polling stations before their fingers are inked.


Fingers should then be inked either at the moment voters receive their ballots or, optimally, at the moment they cast their ballots. Finally, an election staff member should be stationed at the ballot boxes to ensure that voters do not accidentally place a ballot into the wrong box.

The counting procedure should be consistent across all polling stations and in every Electoral District. In some electoral districts, following the count of the electoral district specific ballots, the all-island ballots were brought to the primary polling station for the Electoral District and counted by the Returning Officer.


The all-island ballots should be counted at each polling station in the same manner as the election district-specific ballots to ensure consistency, maximize efficiency and release preliminary results more quickly. Afterwards, the ballot and boxes can be secured by the Police in the event of a recount, as per the current protocol.

Political party agents and civil society observers should be given the opportunity to participate and observe the entire electoral process and period. This should include opportunities to observe ballot production, transportation, and storage, as well as any election administration events.


Proper training and rigorous methodology have proven to mitigate most concerns about political interference of nonpartisan observers in other countries. This nonpartisan observation initiative, viewed as a citizen review, could be done in cooperation with international observation initiative to develop long-term capacity during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

A clear process for objections to candidate eligibility does not exist in the law and should be clearly established, including to avoid pose-election disputes over candidate eligibility. It is also recommended that any complaint of objection related to voter registration are heard on appeal by the courts, rather than non-judicial election adjudicators appointed by the Governor. In addition, consideration should be given to setting a deadline in the legal or judicial procedure for when post-election petitions must be heard and decided upon. The current court practice of virtual hearings supports access to justice and could be adopted more broadly in the future, beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

COMMONWEALTH PARLIAMENTARY ASSOCIATION BRITISH AND MEDITERRANEAN REGION (CPA BIMR)


Extend the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to the Turks and Caicos Islands. Amend domestic law to ensure compliance with this instrument, as necessary, prior to extension.

Extend the Convention against Corruption to the Turks and Caicos Islands. Amend domestic law to ensure compliance with this instrument, as necessary, prior to extension.

A new Boundary Commission should be established in compliance with the Constitution. This Commission should begin work immediately and should be tasked with presenting a report aimed at revising district boundaries and creating equal suffrage. The House of Assembly should commit to considering the report and implementing new boundaries no later than one year before the likely date of the next general election.

The elections Ordinance should be amended to include legal principles which are necessary to guide any future Electoral District Boundary Commission as to the interpretation and practical application of the Constitutional requirement of equality of districts.


As absolute equality is almost impossible to achieve, guidance as to what standard deviation will be tolerated is essential, with international norms taken into consideration.


A new working group, comprising the Supervisor of Elections, Political Parties and other election stakeholders, could be established several months prior to elections. This group would conduct regular meetings to promote better communication between election stakeholders and increase the transparency of the electoral process.

It is crucially important that voter registration efforts are undertaken on an ongoing basis, with the goal of increasing the proportion of eligible voters registered to vote. In order to protect the right to vote, consideration could be given to amendment of Part ll of the Elections Ordinance to remove the fixed dates set out for the publication of the Register of Electors.

The Constitution should be amended to clarify the specific meaning of Article 49(1)(a) which imposes a disqualification from membership of the House of Assembly where a Candidate is, in some measure, under allegiance to another state. Detailed legal provisions are needed to create legal certainty for intending Candidates who hold Dual Citizenship.

The Integrity Commission could provide more transparency in campaign donations and spending by publishing full details of all party and candidate donations and spending online, redacted only to remove the home addresses and contact details of individual donors.

Consideration could be given to the introduction of regulations under Section 71 of the Political Activities Ordinance to require identification of those who pay for online campaigning content.

Affirmative action could be considered to promote the advancement of woman, as permitted under the Convention of the Elimination of all forms of discrimination against woman.

SUPERVISOR OF ELECTIONS

For the last three (3) TCI general elections prisoners serving sentences under twelve (12) months has been given the opportunity to attend polling stations and vote where they are registered. This privilege extended to those prisoners has posed significant and cumbersome problems for prison authorities in respect of travel and security.


Should prisoners for the next general election be extended the courtesy of advance voting or should a mail-in voting system for prisoners be implemented.

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