One year and nearly two full months have passed since the snap election called for 19 January 2022. And yet no official results, pending or otherwise have been published by the EBC (Electoral and Boundaries Commission) which is responsible for the conduct and reporting on elections in Barbados.
To say that the 2022 elections were controversial is an understatement. The leaking of personal Data of an estimated 250,000 Barbadians on the World Wide Web by the EBC, doubt about the purity of the list of electors; the inconvenience of the calling of the election (Barbadians were still under covid-19 pandemic protocols); the unsuccessful challenge of the elections in the High Court are all aspects of this controversy.
The result of the election – a second consecutive sweep of the 30 seats in the House of Assembly for the BLP –not only adds fuel to the fire, but puts our democracy under serious threat, despite the dog and pony show of becoming a republic.
To add insult to injury, the EBC has refused so far to publish a report on the election 414 days later, that is one year and nine days short of two months after the fact.
While the calling of the snap election may be viewed as astute political strategy by some, the Barbados Liberation Front regards it as reprehensible because it exploited the vulnerability of Barbadians in a moment of fear and weakness. It is this and other matters alluded to above that have motivated us to publish this report as a PEI (Public Edification Initiative).
Understanding Election Reports
If you have read any of the previous election reports, you will notice that such reports treat not only to the number of votes each party obtained but it also provides – as any document worthy of the title “report” should – background information to help the reader understand the wider context of the election. In essence, it helps the reader assess to what extent the election has been “free and fair” and by implication, whether democracy is working at this level.
Exhibit 1 shows part of the contents page of the 2018 Election Report. This shows the range of topics covered in that report. Exhibit 2 shows page 2 of the Report which addresses a key issue in this article, the Register of Electors, more commonly referred to as the Voters List.
That list represents all those who are eligible to vote on election day. Notice that in accord with the regulations, a notice for registration as an elector was issued. This is necessary because there might be (1) individuals reaching the age of majority (eligibility) to vote, (2) new citizens and (3) people who, not having registered before, may now want to do so for one reason or another (4) other cases. As you will recall there was an issue of Commonwealth foreign nationals in this (2018) election.
In addition, the register has to be cleaned of those individuals who have deceased between elections or perhaps renounced Barbadian citizenship. In other words, because of its nature, the Register of Voters is always in a state of flux. It is the job of the EBC to ensure that the list is as accurate as possible on election day.
Important Election Terms
It is important that citizens learn how their government works because this is the only way they can understand its shortcomings and have a basis for demanding change. So, before we get to our analysis of the available figures of the 2022 election, it is important to understand a few relevant key terms in our election system.
Preliminary List: This is a published list of all those who are on the Register of Electors prior to new registrations, corrected for errors etcetera. In 2018 this amounted to 257,995 persons.
Register For Elections: This is a revised list of electors, corrected for new registrants, objections, omissions etcetera. In 2018 that list amounted to 255,881 persons. In accord with section 18 (3) of the Act the EBC published the revised voters list (Register of Electors) on 23 May 2018, one day before the election.
Because the EBC has not published the 2022 election report we do not know the official number of eligible electors for the 2022 election. That is why we have used two estimates in our calculations of the national approval rate (See line 15 in the table below): one (a low estimate) from the Niel Harper article (250,000) and one from the 2018 elections (255,881). The true figure probably lies somewhere closer to 260,000. That is why the publication of the 2022 election report is vital.
Turnout: This means the number of persons who actually turned out to vote on election day. Ideally it should be all those on the Register of Elections described above. However, it is usually less – sometimes much less – because eligible electors may not vote for one reason or another.
If the number of actual voters or voting records, exceeds the total of voters on the Register of Elections – as happened in some states in the US 2020 election – we would have a really big problem of election integrity on our hands. That is why it is of utmost importance to maintain an accurate register of electors.
Percentage Turnout: If the turnout (actual voters) is expressed as a percentage of the total registered, we get a statistic known as the percentage turnout.
The important thing to note from the analysis, is that the percentage of the votes cast for the BLP, as a percentage of all votes cast, is 78.8%. But that is not the same performance, as a percentage of the total number of electors in the country. That figure is much less. It is 44.1% as shown on line 15.
Remember, that in the absence of the 2022 election report, we have used the figure reported in the 2018 election, 255,881, as an estimate of the total number of electors, for 2022. If we had used a larger estimate, say 260,000, the performance would be lower than 44.1%. Perhaps, this is one of the main reasons, why this report is being withheld.
Because of its real performance, this administration has often been described as a “minority government”. Strictly speaking, that description is incorrect. Here is the technical definition of minority government.
A minority government is one that comprises ministers from one or more political parties where the party or parties represented in the cabinet do not simultaneously hold an absolute majority (50 percent plus one) of the seats in the parliament or legislature. Source
That is why we are using the concept of legitimacy. Political legitimacy is not a simple concept, so the reader is referred to this Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article for a full discussion. But in simple terms, legitimacy means “legality” or “validity”.
In other words, a party can win a majority of the votes cast by the electorate, but if the turnout of the electorate is below a certain threshold, the “majority” can really be a “minority” relevant to the total eligible population. Then, as in this case, we get an illegitimate government.
So, this government is best described as “illegitimate” because only 44.1% of the eligible citizenry voted for it (See line 15 in the table above). In other words, this does not represent the approval of a majority of the populace.
As you very well know, this election was conducted at a time when covid-19 pandemic protocols were still in effect. Some people were in isolation and to the best of our recollection, no provision was made for them to vote. It is reasonable to expect that a number of persons would not have ventured out to vote because of fear of catching covid-19. A concerned group filed a legal suit asking for the halt of the election, but that request was thrown out by the by Justice Cicely Chase as reported in this NationNews article:
Barbados Uncensored posted a rebuttal on this ruling here. The BLF too respectfully begs to disagree with Justice Chase, that the matter should have been handled by a non-existent election court.
ACTION 1: First the EBC needs to be forced to publish, as a matter of urgency, the full report of the election. Their refusal to do so creates suspicion and tarnishes the image of our democracy. Further, any departure from the template of the report established in the 2018 should be viewed with suspicion because one would want to compare the 2022 election with that of the previous (2018) election.
ACTION 2: Now that the election is over (long over), a new legal suit needs to be filed incorporating where appropriate, the original suit. The thrust of that suit should be to declare the 2022 election null and void because of those who were disenfranchised through extenuating circumstances outside of their control. Ladies and gentlemen, we have unfinished business!