The polling day activities for the June 05, 2020 Federal elections in St. Kitts and Nevis, as observed and reported on by our observer mission to our reckoning, by and large met the commitments, and standards, which we have come to expect and associate with democratic elections, for the process to be described as free and fair and free from fear. The patience, discipline and commitment displayed by the populace as they stood in queues for hours or moved around searching to ensure that they exercised their franchise demonstrated that the people of the Federation are deeply committed to casting their votes within the context of the democratic process. As a result of the foregoing the entire voting process took place within an atmosphere of peace and non-violence. We observed administrative and organizational deficiencies. It is our view, based on what we observed on polling day, during the casting of ballots and at the counting of the same after the close of the polls on the day that such deficiencies did not affect the general outcome of the elections. Still the said deficiencies may have discouraged some voters.
On polling day itself there were unannounced changes to some of the published polling divisions. In St. Christopher I in particular many polling stations opened almost two hours after the scheduled opening time. The observers’ reports indicate that generally electoral officials acted impartially and competently, but they seemed at times to be uncertain as to whether there were standard procedures for some matters such as the administering and taking of oath when an elector was requested to vote for another who could not vote for him/herself. Following the close of the polls the counting of the ballots and declaration of the results took an inordinately long time, in two constituencies [St. Christopher I & VIII] the results were not known for over twenty-four (24) hours.
The Electoral Commission and Supervisor of Elections need to enhance the public education process surrounding elections with attention being paid to the following:-
- The voting process and the recruitment of electoral workers
- The body/official (s) responsible for the choice of workers to manage the elections process
The Electoral Commission and Supervisor of Elections need to do much more in the under-mentioned areas:-
- Ensuring that all Electoral workers are fully educated about and trained to confidentially, competently and
impartially exercise their duties throughout the election process.
- Ensuring that polling divisions and certified electoral roles are published well in advanced of polling day so
that all stake holders can be fully informed of the location of their places for voting/the electors who are registered in the various polling divisions.
- Ensuring that the counting of ballots are conducted in a more expeditious manner and the results declared
without any long and inexplicable delays.
BACKGROUND TO, COMPOSITION OF OBSERVATION TEAM AND TRAINING FOR THEIR MONITORING WORK:
The 2020 Federal Elections marked the third occasion on which the NGO Coalition [The Christian Councils and Evangelical Associations of St. Kitts and Nevis supported by the St. Kitts-Nevis Chamber of Industry and Commerce] was a local observer of Federal Elections. The NGO election observation mission has always taken place within the context of and against the background of there being present on the ground Regional [CARICOM], Hemispheric [ORGANIZATION OF AMERICAN STATES (OAS)] and International [COMMONWEALTH] observers. As a local election observation team we have always recognized and articulated our operations as a Local Observation/Monitoring Team, whose work added a local layer to the work of the INDEPENDEDNT EXTERNAL OBSERVERS [individuals and organizations that are totally unconnected to and with our local communities, who are themselves not enfranchised participants in the process].
In addition, as an important sector of the civil society, we see our role as a form of support for the institutional processes of democratic election as well as a more substantive development of a democratic electorate. Civil society has a role to play in reducing election-related contentions, promoting a peaceful electoral environment and encouraging public confidence through fostering of a transparent electoral process.
The 2020 Federal Elections showed some significant differences to all other elections in a post=-Independent St. Kitts-Nevis:
- They were conducted in the context of the Covid 19 Pandemic.
- Campaigning was done within a State of Emergency
- No Independent Observers from the usual hemispheric (OAS) and international (Commonwealth) secretariats were present.
- The Independent Observer mission from the region (CARICOM) was a three (3) member team, who arrived in the federation on June 03, 2020.
The NGO Coalition Observation Team was comprised of the following clergy, pastors, associate pastors and selected members from the Christian Councils and Evangelical Associations of St. Kitts and Nevis and their member churches:
CENTRAL CO-ORDINATING TEAM:
Rawlins, P. Allister
The members of the NGO Observation Mission field work got logistical and administrative support through the office and resources of the St. Kitts-Nevis Chamber of Industry and Commerce. Two training sessions were conducted on Wednesday June 03, to empower the observers for their field work. The first Training Session was conducted face to face except for our Nevis colleagues who participated via Zoom. It was facilitated jointly by Mr. Leroy Benjamin and Mr. Eugene Petty, both past Supervisors of Elections in St. Kitts-Nevis, who have wide experiences in both regional and international election observations. Mr. Petty is a retired CARICOM Trainer for Election observers. The second session was virtual; it was facilitated through the CARICOM Secretariat with Ambassador Colin Granderson, Assistant Secretary-General, as lead facilitator.
ACTIVITIES OF THE ELECTORAL OBSERVATION TEAM:
Our observation team members travelled across the two islands, where ninety-four (94) polling stations were based on St Kitts and thirty-six (36) were located in Nevis. On St Kitts, the eight (8) seats were contested by Team Unity (Peoples Action Movement [PAM] and the Peoples Labour Party [PLP]) Alliance and the St Kitts and Nevis Labour Party [SKNLP]. On Nevis the three (3) seats were contested by the Concern Citizen Movement (CCM) an affiliate of the Team Unity and the Nevis Reformation Party (NRP) which had previously formed an alliance with the St Kitts and Nevis Labour Party (SKNLP).
The NGO Coalition observed and reported on: the opening of the poll, voting throughout the entirety of the polling day, the closing of the poll, the transportation of the ballot boxes to the central place of counting and the counting of the ballots cast. With respect to the opening (of the polls) and voting processes they observed and reported on twenty (20) specific areas of operation as outlined in the standard form: Report Form – Opening of the Poll and Voting (Appendix I). In connection with the closing of the poll, observers monitored and reported on seven (7) important questions as outlined in the standard operating document: Report Form –Closing of the Poll (Appendix II). The transportation of the ballot boxes were observed from their removal from the various polling stations to the delivery to the central counting sites. At the counting ten (10) particular questions were framed to ensure thorough observation and comprehensive reporting were done on this aspect of the poll. The questions are contained in the standard operating document: Report Form – Counting of Ballot (Appendix III).
Team members reported throughout the day; reports were collated by the Central Co-ordinating team members who visited polling divisions where observers reported challenges/problems. All observers were engaged in a midpoint face to face debriefing from 12:30- 1:30 on polling day. This was followed up with another total team face to face final debriefing on Wednesday June 10, 10:30am to 12:30pm.
- Generally the correct procedure was followed at the opening of the poll. In some instances the Presiding Officer failed to display the empty ballot boxes to persons standing in the line. When and where this oversight was recognized there were instances where the Presiding Officer proceeded to break the two seals already in place before displaying the box.
- Presiding officers were not consistent and/or deliberate in their steps to ensure the secrecy of the ballots. Some Presiding Officers offered the voters the option of depositing the ballot into the box themselves. In the case where the Presiding Officers did the deposit, some officers made it a point of ensuring the voter witnessed the ballot being deposited. Others did not. Some Presiding Officers were deliberate in ensuring that the voters did not carry their personal belongings into the voting booth.
- In some stations, voters presented themselves to the Presiding officer first, who verified the information, while in other instances, they presented themselves to the Poll Clerk. In some stations, the voters presented themselves to the Presiding Officer first, but the Poll Clerk verified the information. In other stations the voters presented themselves to the agent of one of the parties first before presenting to the Poll Clerk. Perhaps this was due to the agent being located at entrance door to the polling station.
- Candidates/their representatives were for the most part present at the opening and closing of the polling stations.
- Polling stations were changed in Tabernacle and Halfway Tree without the knowledge of the voters or Observers. Voters were initially inconvenienced.
- All polling stations were not wheel chair accessible.
- Older and disabled persons took too long to vote and thus held up the process for everyone else.
- A voter who seemed to lack understanding of why he or she was there was brought to the poll by a companion who voted on their behalf.
- There were inconsistencies on how assisted voters were treated. Clear instructions were not always given by the presiding officer.
- Inconsistencies were noted as to how the poll workers interpreted the rules governing lack of ID, or when the voter’s name was not on the list.
- Furniture was being delivered to some polling stations on the morning of the election resulting in late starts in some polling divisions.
- There were cases where presiding Officers relied on time pieces that were noted to be more than five (5) minutes ahead of everyone else’s.
- In some instances there was no form signed to acknowledge agreement of results of the count.
- After the count in some constituencies there was no public signing of the results.
- The ballot papers for each candidate were not always placed into separate envelopes, sealed and signed by the returning officer and candidates’ agents as stipulated in the electoral law. In some instances ballot papers were dumped together into the respective boxes at the end of each count.
- The counting process was generally inefficient in the sense that it took a very long time; in two instances more than twenty-four (24) hours to be completed and the results declared.
The results of the election indicated that the Peoples Action Movement (PAM) won four (4) seats, the Peoples Labour Party (PLP) two (2) seats and the Concern Citizen Movement (CMC) three (3), thus making it nine (9) seats for Team Unity. On the other hand, the St Kitts Nevis Labour Party (SKNLP) won two (2) seats and the Nevis Reformation Party (NRP) did not win any seat. The Team Unity Coalition was therefore asked to form the government.
The NGO Coalition Observer Mission’s conclusion is that despite a number of administrative and organizational setback and inconsistencies the polling day, activities: from the opening of the poll, voting throughout the day, the counting of the ballots and declaration of the results of the June 05, 2020 Federal Elections in St. Kitts and Nevis indicate that the said elections were administered by the Electoral Office and the other stakeholders in a manner where they were free and fair and free from fear. The Mission’s assessment of the day’s activities is that the voters were able to cast their ballots without intimidation or harassment and that the results of the Elections reflect that the people freely voted for the candidate of their choice on Election Day.
- Electoral reform is urgently needed to make the counting less time consuming more efficient, and effective.
- This could be greatly enhanced/achieved by ensuring that there be a preliminary counting of the ballots at the polling stations where they are cast; (this is currently done throughout the OECS and within CARICOM).
- Explore greater utilization of technology for the vote and the count.
- Polling stations must be identified well in advance of polling day (at least a month before the election).
- The certified Voters List for polling day must be made available in a much more timely fashion.
- The Electoral Commission/Supervisor of Elections must engage in comprehensive ongoing public education on every aspect of the election and voting processes throughout the Federation.
- As a way of enhancing the readiness of the Electoral office for the conduct of general Elections there should be movement towards the establishment of a fixed date for elections.
- The Electoral Commission/Supervisor of Elections should move to the position where all electoral workers: Electoral Office officials and candidates agents are provided with meals and beverages throughout the entire day’s proceedings. (One way to offset this cost may be for nominations fees to become non-refundable and the money collected used to supplement such costs).
- Polling stations should be selected with a view to protect voters standing in queues from the elements.
- THE NGO Coalition should seek to expand the collaboration among Civil Society Organizations/Associations (Bar, Hotel & Tourism, Professional Associations) with a view to constantly monitoring meaningful Electoral Reform to enhance our Democracy. There is a need to build the local observation base even before Election Day.
- At polling divisions candidates’/parties’ agents should sit in clearly marked locations to differentiate them from poll workers.
- There should be a “blown up” ballot in each polling station to use for guiding the voters.
- Time to consider infrared lamps/other appropriate non-invasive technology to determine any traces of ink on the fingers of prospective voters.
- Observers should always meet with the supervisor of elections prior to polling day.
- The Electoral Commission/Supervisor of Elections should engage in timely and extensive training of all electoral workers to ensure that there is consistency in the practices that they adhere to on Election day.
- The Electoral Commission/Supervisor of Elections/political Directorate [government] must operate in ways that build public confidence in the independence, impartiality and professionalism of the Electoral office and its officials.
- There must at all times be actual and perceived non-interference in the operations of the Electoral Office and the work of the Supervisor of Elections from the government of the day.
- Regulations should be put in place to govern campaign financing, to ultimately deter excessive spending and rumours of bribery.