BRIDGETOWN, Barbados – A law lecturer at the University of the West Indies (UWI) is raising the possibility of legal action being taken should persons who tested positive for the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, not being able to cast a ballot in the January 19 general election.
“It’s not just one or two people. We’re talking about thousands of people who will not be eligible to vote and, in reality, that can make the difference in a constituency between winning a seat or losing a seat,” said Dr. Ronnie Yearwood, who is also a candidate for the opposition Democratic Labour Party (DLP) in the elections that Prime Minister Mia Mottley called 18 months ahead of the constitutional deadline.
“We know in Barbados, seats have been won by ten votes, 15 votes, so you’ve got thousands of potential electors who cannot vote across varying constituencies and you are affecting the nature of democracy. It’s as simple as that,.
“I think this amounts to disenfranchisement. The reality is, if you know you’re staging an election during a pandemic, it’s quite obvious you’ve got your variants, you would think that you would’ve made provisions to allow persons with COVID-19 to vote.
“Whether that is creating polling stations at the isolation centers or creating some form of an electronic or mail-in voting system, but no alterations were made to the electoral law to provide for this,” Yearwood added.
Yearwood told the online publication, Barbados TODAY, that he was left “worried, dumbfounded and “aghast” by suggestions from election officials that COVID-19-infected residents would not be allowed to cast their ballot.
Last weekend, chairman of the Electoral and Boundaries Commission (EBC), Leslie Haynes Q.C. told local media representatives that that persons who are diagnosed with COVID-19 cannot vote and that the position was taken after legal advice.
Prime Minister Mottley said that was awaiting word from the Ministry of Health and Wellness.
But Yearwood said the onus would have been on her government, prior to calling an election, to make much-needed changes to the country’s election laws, to ensure the vote is free, fair and transparent.
He said that affected voters should seek legal representation for the enforcement of their rights under the Constitution of Barbados and the People’s Representation Act.
“There could be a legal case of merit to the fact that you’re being disenfranchised because it’s not like COVID was sprung on us; the elections were called during COVID. The other argument could be on moral justice and that you should not disenfranchise people in this manner. So, there are two sets of arguments that can be made here.
“For any persons who feel that they’ve been disenfranchised, the advice would be to seek legal advice and then you can make a particular petition to the court and they will take it from there,” he added.
Political scientist and pollster, Peter Wickham said voters should not be disenfranchised and provisions should be made for COVID-19 patients who are eligible to vote, to cast their ballots.
“There must have been an opportunity for us to come up with a facility whereby persons who are suspected of having COVID or, alternatively, were diagnosed with having COVID and are on restriction for two weeks, should be able to have access to the polls,” said Wickham, the moderator of a radio talk show.
Barbados has recorded 262 deaths and 29, 160 positive cases linked to the virus since March 2020.