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Broad-based approach needed on Grenada new voter registration system

In pursuant to the provisions of the National Constitution in relation to elections, Section 8 of the Representation of the People Act (RPA) establishes and explains for ‘a single, uniform, non-discriminatory, centralised, interactive computerised voter registration system for Grenada, to be administered and maintained by the Supervisor of Elections (SoE)’.

This Voter Registration System incorporates or essentially serves for the electronic processing and documenting of the data on every individual who is ‘qualified and registered’ to vote, and the biometric sampling and identifying of such individuals with a unique voter registration number assigned upon qualification.

The System was introduced via a “2011 Amendment” to the RPA after pertinent reports in 1999, 2003 and 2008 by the Organisation of American States (OAS) towards “free and fair” elections that would increase confidence among the Grenadian-people on Electoral Justice; the actual implementation started in 2012 by the SoE/Parliamentary Elections Office (PEO) with “continuous registration” in accordance with the RPA.

The installation and operations of this new System was however ‘evaluated and verified’ in 2013 by an independent technical team from the OAS for its ‘security, efficiency, accuracy and reliability’ purposes.

In a press conference on 10 January 2020, the PEO announced and advised the public of the need for the replacement of all Voter Identification (ID) cards, since those cards expire on 31 January 2020.

Although the issue of replacement of expiry voter cards is not legislated, ‘administrative discrepancies with technical considerations’ had the generation of ‘fixed validity’ voter ID-cards by the computerised voter registration system.

The announcement by the PEO causes many ‘vexations and confusions’ for the voting population and the political parties, especially with the instruction that the replacement of the cards requires the same rules and processes as for ‘original registration’ and with the interpretation that a registered individual without an ‘updated card’ would be denied the right to vote.

In fact, the “Preliminary Report of the OAS Electoral Observation Mission for the General Elections of June 23, 2022 In Grenada” records that ‘by far the most topical concern which dominated the pre-electoral landscape for stakeholders was the question of the Voter ID card’, including the issue of the timing and convenience for general registration and card replacement, and for addressing ‘queries and claims and objections’ about the Voters List, as affecting access to vote and the integrity of the votes.

The PEO did not raise at its press conference any serious concerns about the ‘impending and signaling’ need to replace the software which ‘activates and runs’ the computerized voter registration system, except having to disclose that since 2015 the company (Developer/Administrator) of the System is no longer in existence and that the maintenance of the System has been contracted to a private entity.

In commenting on the disclosures on the status of the System, the past article “Grenada’s Voter ID Card: How Legal and Applicable?” questions about the extent of the ‘integrity or security as well as the flexibility or robustness’ of the System, especially for reasons relating to its maintenance, capacity, upgrade and correction.

Recall the subsequent article “Grenada’s Parliamentary Elections Office on the Voter Identification Card” which also criticizes the approach by the SoE/PEO in relating to the ‘use and importance’ of the card for voting.

To date, the public has not been ‘sensitized and apprised’ about the rationales and moves to secure a new software for the Voter Registration System, except that the PEO held an “Important Stakeholders Meeting” on 06 July 2023 and another on 18 April 2024 with the focus on “a new voter registration system”.

Both meetings unfortunately were not well attended and did not reach any ‘sensible and satisfactory’ conclusion on this main item; much was not accomplished, outstanding matters remain, and the representatives of Civil Society try to ‘urge and impress’ the PEO to take a ‘better approach’ in seeking broad-based inclusion and consultation throughout the country on this sovereign matter.

From the experiences of the problems associated with the replacement of voter ID cards, early information on the plans and processes regarding elections must also be of priority for the SoE/PEO, in ensuring confidence and cooperation by all stakeholders particularly the sovereign constituents.

In fact, it has not been the practice of the SoE/PEO to release and engage the Grenadian-people on the various reports/recommendations coming from general elections, in the same way that it seems to be ‘unconcerned and unhurried’ to report, for laying before the House of Representatives, on the exercise of his/her functions.

How favourable and impactful are the views and inputs of the Representatives on this critical undertaking of Voter Registration reform, would reflect the context and the extent to which SoE/PEO acknowledges and appreciates “The members of the Grouping of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) for their continued agitation toward the improvement of the electoral process” as expressed in the “Statistical Report of the Parliamentary Elections Office on the General Elections held on Thursday, 23rd June, 2022”.

The NOWGRENADA website carries the article “PEO begins public consultations for new voter system” and highlights some pertinent information on the imperativeness for Voter Registration reform.

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The limitations of the present system, as well as the limitations of the PEO for manipulating the system were indicative or apparent from the Publicised Notes of a representative organisation of Civil Society at PEO’s Convened Meeting of July 6th, and of which the Website makes some references.

Thus, as presented by the PEO; “Certain certificates on the system had expired and there was no manual or documentation on what was to be done in that event.

The proposed new system would integrate with other departments and would be capable of disaggregating data and doing more analysis of the data collected during the registration process. It would be able to produce information significant to the economic development of the country”.

The Grenadian people should be inquisitive about how far, or about the threshold, to be tolerated in terms of the ‘capacity and function and connecting network’ of the proposed New System, especially in this era of the power of Artificial Intelligence and its spread in electioneering!

The previous two-part article, “Agitating For Meaningful Voter Registration Reform In Grenada”, advises the SoE/PEO that any efforts and discussions to secure and install a new software for the computerised voter registration system, or to undertake any form of Voter Registration reform, should be done in a comprehensive manner along with the statutory provisions for electoral boundaries and citizenry enumerations.

Whilst the issue of the electoral boundaries may be dismissed on the grounds that it is not within the established jurisdiction of the SoE (section 35 of the Constitution) but that of the Constituency Boundaries Commission (section 55 of the Constitution), in the ‘goodwill interest’ of Sovereign Democracy and National Development, institutional networking amongst constitutional authorities must be evident

In fact, the intrinsic relationship between the Constituency Boundaries Commission and the Parliamentary Elections Office has been surfaced with the recommendation as drafted in the Constitution of Grenada (Elections and Boundaries Commission) (Amendment) Bill, 2016 for an Act “to alter the Constitution of Grenada to establish an Elections and Boundaries Commission to carry out the functions formerly performed by the Supervisor of Elections and the Constituency Boundaries Commission” under Grenada’s historic constitutional referendum on 24 November 2016.

Moreover, considering that the issue of the electoral boundaries has been of repeated concerns by the Overseas Elections Observer Teams with recommendations for “Reconvening the Constituency Boundaries Commission at the earliest opportunity” (OAS 2022 Report), it should be incumbent on, or reasonable for, the SoE to be proactive in responding to this concern/recommendation.

That is; the SoE / PEO must accept the challenge, and consider that the rectification of the electoral boundaries is “necessary or expedient …. for matters relating to the election of members of the House of Representatives” and any other forms of pertinent elections and that as being ‘appointed and answerable’ to the Governor-General, there is good administrative judgement in reporting and/or interacting on this critical Issue, as exemplified by the recently established Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO)/CSO, Grenada Monarchist League in its “Open Letter to Governor-General on convening Constituency Boundaries Commission”.

Further to those outstanding interconnected relevant undertakings of electoral boundaries and citizenry enumerations, in the design and introduction of a New Voter Registration System, there is the need for full disclosure on the ‘intentions and proposals’ of the powers-that-be about the technological and security dimensions of the new System as well as about the accompanying amendments to the RPA for the installation and application of this innovation.

As of a particular concern, the Grenadian-people must know about any measures for the dissemination and protection of the biometric information taken during registration, especially in light of the present guarantee in the RPA, “All personal data collected and entered into the System shall only be used for the purposes of this Act and in accordance with the provisions of this Act”.

How does the 10 May 2023 Data Protection Act “to promote the protection of personal data processed by public and private bodies, to provide for the establishment of the Information Commission and for related matter” on this concern?

Of additional great and relevant interest. Firstly; how would the SoE/PEO treat under the new Voter Registration System, ‘qualified and registered’ individuals who are in possession of renewed voter ID cards from the call of the 10 January 2020 press conference?

Secondly, what would be the response under the new System to the idea which was strongly floated at a Shareholders Meeting leading up to the 23 June 2022 General Elections, by the new political leader of the National Democratic Congress and now prime minister of Grenada, that an individual should be able to register and then vote, both on Elections day?

Thirdly, is there any thinking by the SoE/PEO for the new Voter Registration System to interface with activities on an elections day, such as having the facility to accommodate the physically-challenged voters (Blind, etc.), consistent with section 32 of the Constitution “In any election of members of the House of Representatives the votes shall be given by ballot in such manner as not to disclose how any particular person votes”?

J.K. Roberts