Quarantining voters will be allowed to cast their ballots in the general election using mobile or postal voting, Elections Supervisor Wesley Howell has confirmed.
“We have discussed some ways that we can protect our workers, protect the community and protect the voters and still allow them to mark the ballots, but it wouldn’t be at the polls on the 14th [April,]” Howell said when he appeared on the Cayman Compass weekly Facebook talk show The Resh Hour on 3 March.
Addressing the issue, Howell said plans are being put in place for voting to be conducted at isolation locations on 10 and 11 April, “but they would have to go through that process of applying either for a postal ballot or for mobile voting”.
Protocols in place
This process, he said, will be done under strict health protocols with the assistance of medical professionals who are familiar with full PPE gear and the proper protocols.
“They will be the ones interacting with the persons in isolation and we have a system that we are working out with Public Health and Dr. [John] Lee in relation to ensuring that’s done in a safe manner,” he said.
The Human Rights Commission, on 25 Feb., raised concerns about isolating voters being shut out of the election process; however, Howell said – even before that red flag was waved – his team, Public Health; Lee, the chief medical officer; and Travel Cayman were working on a solution to ensure quarantining voters were not disenfranchised.
For his part, Howell said his preference for those who are likely to wind-up in quarantine around 14 April would be to dispatch postal ballots, as opposed to mobile, since it would reduce the risk of exposure to staff.
“Persons can request those postal ballots. Now we can send that to them by courier. We’re looking at next day, if not, a sort of two or three-day turnaround. They can get it back to us and they can vote before they come on island. If they’re on the island, they can request mobile voting and the deadline for that is the 6th of April which is the day after Easter Monday,” he said.
As of 3 March, Howell said, 86 postal ballot applications were filed and 206 mobile voting forms were received.
With his announcement on the talk show, Howell said, he expects that number to increase.
Given that there is, on average, around 800 individuals in isolation, some of whom are eligible voters, it is imperative they get the chance to cast ballots.
Added to this, with the small margins of victory in the last election, every vote will be crucial.
Howell said Cabinet approved the recommendation from his office to use a courier service for outgoing ballots and for the Elections Office to pay for the return courier which means the voter will not have to cover those costs.
“That’s because we realised that mail isn’t flowing between some countries and individuals have no other option other than courier if they’re going to be voting by postal ballot,” Howell said.
He appealed to voters who may be travelling and are likely to wind up in quarantine around 14 April to apply as soon as they can for postal ballots which will reduce the number of mobile voting stops the Elections Office will have to conduct on 10 and 11 April.
“Our legislation as it is does not permit us to send postal ballots to persons that are within the Cayman Islands. So, you either have to be leaving or overseas in order to have a postal ballot. If there’s someone who’s leaving next week Monday [8 March] and is coming back on island around the end of the month, [ahead of their trip] they can actually request a postal ballot and they can have that issued to be picked up at our office,” he said.
By doing it this way, he said, the departing voters “can actually mark that ballot, seal it back up and [put it] in the envelope and deposit in one of our secure boxes and that would be counted just like any other postal ballots.”
He recommended having this done before departure as a negative PCR test is required for entry into Cayman and if, perchance, that voter tests positive they will have to remain where they are, until cleared for inbound travel.
Howell also cautioned candidates about assisting voters in the postal and mobile voting application process, since it is not the same as helping with voter registration.
“The law is quite specific when it comes to the applications for mobile voting or postal voting in that a candidate or an agent commits an offence if they fill out or witness one of those forms. That’s a definite no-no and we want to encourage persons not to do that,” he said.
The same goes for the declaration of identity that goes out with a postal ballot, he said.
Anyone found doing this, Howell said, would be barred from ever running again. The offence also carries an imprisonment of up to six months.
“We have some new candidates now that haven’t run before; we wanted to ensure that they’re aware that that’s a requirement,” he added.
Ballot printing begins
On 1 March, 50 candidates filed their nomination forms to contest seats in the general election. On 4 March, the Elections Office issued its notice of contested elections and thus far, all candidates appear to have met the legal requirements to stand for office.
Unlike in 2017, he said the Elections Office waited for the contested elections period to be over to print ballots; this time around, due to the short space of time available, the printing will go ahead 6 and 7 March.
“We’re issuing our first set of postal ballots seven days after nomination, so that’s Monday [8 March]. By next week, even though we’re still [some 40-odd] days away from Election Day, ballots will be dispatched to individuals,” Howell said.
The printed ballots and returned ballots are secured and stored by the Elections Office.
Should any candidate be disqualified even though the ballot has already been printed with that individual’s name on it, Howell said, it will be treated as if the person had withdrawn from the election.