Three individuals became the first to vote in the 14 April general election through postal ballots issued Monday by the Elections Office.
Elections Supervisor Wesley Howell, speaking with the Cayman Compass, said those three voters, who were travelling overseas either Monday or Tuesday, had applied for postal ballots.
They came to collect their ballots at the Elections Office in George Town, he said, where they were allowed to mark them.
“They [were] able to sign for their ballots. They filled out all the forms that are required internally within the ballot, [and sealed them] back up in the mailing envelopes. But they deposited them straight into the ballot box today. So we’ve already got three persons who’ve voted,” Howell said.
A total of 90 ballots were issued Monday as part of the Elections Office’s postal-voting exercise. Ballots were issued for every constituency except for Cayman Brac West/Little Cayman.
He said the three individuals were allowed to vote in a private booth set up at the Elections Office’s Bay Town Office Suites headquarters, and a fourth ballot was delivered Monday.
He explained how the vote was done securely, saying the postal ballots each have a declaration of identity which has to be witnessed.
“The postal ballot is sealed in a ballot envelope. That envelope is sealed together with the declaration of identity in another envelope. We’re then able to check that the identity matches the ballot that was issued. Those numbers all matched the envelopes that we’ve issued, and those are kept securely in a ballot box for which the returning officer has the keys, until they’re open on the evening [of] the election,” he said.
Of the ballots issued Monday, 81 were handed over to DHL courier staff for express delivery to voters who have applied for their postal ballots. They were flown out Monday evening for dispatch. MailFast delivered five ballots locally to voters who are leaving the Islands and will likely be away on Election Day.
“By law we have to issue [ballots] within seven days of nomination, so that is today (Monday). Nominations were actually last Monday… seems like longer than that, but it’s only been a week. Our teams came in from each of the electoral districts and issued ballots,” Howell said.
Last week Howell, speaking on the Cayman Compass Facebook talk show The Resh Hour, confirmed that voters who may be quarantining on Election Day can apply for postal ballots or mobile voting to exercise their franchise.
The mobile-voting process, he said, will be done under strict health protocols with the assistance of medical professionals who are familiar with full personal protective equipment and the proper procedures. Training for that process, he said, is ongoing.
The deadline to apply for the postal ballots and mobile voting is 6 April.
Cabinet, an Elections Office statement Tuesday explained, approved recommendations submitted by the supervisor of elections to amend the Elections Rules and permit General Election ballots to be sent and returned via commercial courier.
“The unprecedented circumstances brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic have created new challenges for postal voters and the Elections Office. Being able to take advantage of DHL’s dedicated aircraft and robust international transportation systems is one way we are overcoming these challenges to ensure that Postal Voting is conducted smoothly,” Howell said in that statement.
“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, express and regular mail services around the world continue to face disruptions including limited airlift capacity, varying prevention restrictions and logistical challenges with international postal systems,” the statement said.
The amended rules, gazetted on 3 March, allows the Elections Office to dispatch outgoing postal ballots by courier and pre-pay the cost of the return ballot from the voter to the Elections Office.
“Section 109 of the Elections Act permits Cabinet to amend the Election rules with respect to incidental matters related to taking or voting by post or mobile as well as voter registration. Postal ballot and mobile voting applications are only valid for one election or referendum,” the statement added.
Howell is encouraging those travelling to use postal voting to reduce the number of mobile-voting stops for people in quarantine, which will be conducted on 10 and 11 April.
Candidates for districts in which postal ballots are being issued, Howell told the Compass, were allowed to witness the sealing process Monday.
“It’s a very open process in relation to them being here. So the box that will contain the postal ballots [which] will then be open and counted on the [evening] of polling day April 14th… that box is shown empty and sealed up in front of the candidates or their agents. They’re able to initial the seals to ensure that we’re not changing anything as part of the transparency that happens,” he said.
Once this was done, he said, returning officers were able to start issuing ballots to be picked up at the Elections Office for people who were leaving the island over Monday and Tuesday.
In addition, he said the Elections Office will deliver ballots to people on island who will soon be leaving.
“We have a batch to send overseas by courier for those that are going to international destinations,” he added.
Howell said ballots will be issued two or three times a week over the next 25 days.