Appointments should be made as soon as possible, officials urge
Several hundred people attending the Elections Office training session last week Tuesday heard about their responsibilities as candidate agents from the time of appointment until the vote count is concluded after 22 May.
Agents are “the eyes and ears” of a candidate, Deputy Supervisor of Elections Orrett Connor told the gathering at Mary Miller Hall. They may attend the sending out of postal ballots and observe the voting process, including mobile voting, but they must first be appointed, he emphasised.
By law, agents must be appointed, in writing, at least 10 days before the commencement of the poll, but Mr. Connor urged that the appointments be done as soon as possible because of the work involved in checking eligibility and issuing identification cards.
“Each candidate is allowed two agents at each polling station, so that’s a lot,” Mr. Connor pointed out.
One example he could have given is George Town, with 18 polling stations and 21 candidates. Individuals may be appointed on behalf of more than one candidate, but theoretically George Town alone could have 756 agents.
Agents typically attend in shifts. They must be registered voters in the district in which their candidate is nominated.
From the candidate’s point of view, a major reason for appointing agents early is to avoid any conflict when it comes to witnessing of voter applications. Candidates and agents must not complete any part of any application for a postal ballot or mobile voting, or sign on behalf of an applicant, or witness the signing of an application or the signing of any declaration by a person who assisted a voter, or a declaration of identity.
“There’s nothing wrong with going out and campaigning for your candidate, but do not witness any applications,” Mr. Connor emphasised. “Let a family member do that,” he suggested.
The penalties are serious: A fine of up to $500 and imprisonment up to six months. Not only that, but the related application or ballot will be rendered void.
Mobile voting helps enfranchise voters who would not leave their homes because of physical difficulties, Mr. Connor explained. Family members are not allowed to give instructions to the presiding officer as to how the vote should be cast; if the voter is unable to give those instructions, the vote cannot be taken, he stated.
Inside the polling station, no one but a voter may go in to the voting booth. If a voter needs assistance, it will be provided by the presiding officer at his table. Agents used to be able to observe how the presiding officer marked a ballot in such a case, but the law has been changed. Now a voter may require the presence of a friend and that friend must take an oath that he or she will keep secret the name of the candidate for whom the voter voted.
An individual may act as a friend once.
West Bay candidate Dalkeith Bothwell asked what method would be used to enforce that restriction; stick the friend’s finger in ink? Or track an individual from polling station to polling station? He indicated that reports had been made in the past about individuals serving as “friends” more than once.
“If you have a method, we should know so we do not waste our time tracking them because we know who they are,” Mr. Bothwell declared.
Mr. Connor said he appreciated the concern. Agents can object, he pointed out.
“The fact we have highlighted it means we are aware of it and we intend to do something about it,” he said. He declined to give a direct answer, noting, “We’re not going to tip our hand.”
“When we say we’re going to enforce something, we do get people’s attention,” he added.
Responding to questions from the audience, Mr. Connor and Supervisor of Elections Kearney Gomez discussed treating, T-shirts and slips of paper.
The Elections Law makes treating an offence and refers specifically to providing food, drink, entertainment or provision “to or for any persons for the purpose of corruptly influencing that person, or any other person, to vote or to refrain from voting”.
It has been agreed that it is reasonable to offer finger food and sandwiches at public meetings, but meals would be considered treating. Soft drinks and water may be offered, but not alcohol. Entertainment is treating, but the playing of music is acceptable.
Handing out slips of paper with candidates’ names is an offence that will be vigorously pursued, as it falls under the category of undue influence.
T-shirts with candidates’ names are advertising and may not be worn into a polling station. All advertising must be taken down by midnight on 21 May.
The training session concentrated largely on pre-election issues and the voting process, with agents and candidates receiving detailed handbooks. A second session, set for Monday, 6 May, will concentrate more on the counting of ballots.
Sessions for candidates and agents in Cayman Brac and Little Cayman are scheduled for Friday, 19 April, and Friday, 3 May.