The Election and Boundaries Commission (EBC) has already devised a policy document with new arrangements should the country go to the polls while COVID-19 restrictions are still enforced.
This was confirmed by Chief Election Officer Fern Narcis-Scope during a telephone interview with the Guardian Media yesterday.
Forced to break away from tradition election campaigning, political parties have had to adjust their machinery and find innovative ways to reach out to the public.
Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said a different kind of arrangement would have to be made for elections if COVID-19 regulations are still enforced.
Asked how voting would take place, under those circumstances, the Prime Minister said, “The same way you buy doubles.” He said people may still have to wear face masks and practice social distancing. Those requirements are contained in the EBC’s new document policy, said Narcis-Scope. “EBC has been looking at the COVID situation in the country with a view to coming up with a plan to be implemented shortly should we need to make an amendment to our normal arrangements on election day in keeping with the new normal guidelines coming in out of the Ministry of Health.
“The department has written a policy document on how we feel we should approach the elections. The commission is right now reviewing that document and when we think is necessary we will be approaching the Ministry of Health for further information and for their assistance in putting some of these considerations or ideas in place.” However, she said these arrangements will depend on when the election is called and the status of the virus in the country. Personal protective equipment for polling staff, face masks for voters, sanitisation and social distancing are among some of the guidelines contained in the document. Narcis-Scope said, “There are certain other things that I will not want to talk about now that we are also considering.”
With regards to the volume of voters at the polling stations, she said people would be asked to maintain social distancing and the EBC would be asking the police to assist in this regard. Narcis-Scope said they would also be asking for the public’s cooperation.
“There would be a heavy voter programme letting persons and the electing public know what the new procedures would be. We would spend a great deal of time on that,” she noted.
She added that the EBC would also meet with the political parties to inform them of the new arrangements and to get feedback from them.
“And we would want their assistance as well in ensuring that their supporters adhere to whatever we come up with,” she also said.
While the document is completed, she said they are still working out the costs aspect since masks for polling staff and other items will have to be procured.
The PNM’s general secretary, Foster Cummings, said the party has not yet considered what arrangements would be implemented should elections be held under COVID-19 regulations.
“We have had no meeting concerning this. We just have not approached that area that as yet. It depends on the election day when the election is called and based on this we will determine how we go forward,” he said.
However, he said the party has made adjustments to the screening process and campaigning.
He said, “With the COVID regulations, we had to have the screening committees spilt in two and meeting at two different locations.”
Chairman of the UNC David Lee said political parties will have to find creative ways to campaign.
“Once we are under COVID-19 protocols people touching, as you know in old days touching the flesh and kissing babies are no longer going to be part of the politics of the day. You will have to be a bit creative and maybe the mike man or the mike car might be more induced now and you might use a lot more flyers to get your message out.”
Noting that social media campaigning is another platform, he said the UNC held its second virtual political meeting on Thursday night. However, he said one of the challenges is that many people would still want to see and meet the candidates.